A TikTok influencer who sparked national outrage when he shared a video of himself giving flowers to a lady in a mall has revealed how he struggles with his own demons.
Harrison Pawluk sparked controversy earlier this year when the subject of that video – which has been viewed 70.8 million times – said she felt dehumanized by his ‘clickbait’ gesture.
But behind the random acts of kindness and free hugs on video, the 22-year-old Melbourne social media star – known online as lifeofharrison – has been dealing with the horror of Russia’s war with Ukraine.
Pawluk has a cousin who was trapped in her apartment in Kiev when Russian bombs began falling in late February, with the sky ‘raining missiles’ when she briefly left her bunker to get water and clean clothes.
This woman, who is a first cousin of her mother Diana Pawluk, had taken refuge in a bunker under her apartment when the invasion began.
Harrison said the situation was particularly harrowing for his family, given that great, great uncles on his mother’s side had disappeared and possibly been murdered during the 1930s, when Soviet communist dictator Joseph Stalin sent Ukrainians to gulags, or forced labor camps as part of an enforced famine.
“Maternal great uncles who lived in Ukraine during the Stalin era were sent to Siberia never to be seen or heard from again,” he told Daily Mail Australia.
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A TikTok influencer with 3.2 million followers who sparked national outrage when he gave flowers to a lady in a shopping mall has revealed he has relatives caught up in Russia’s Ukraine war (pictured is Harrison Pawluk)
His video has been viewed 70.8 million times since it went live in June and sparked controversy when Melbourne mall woman Maree (pictured) said she felt dehumanized
But behind the random acts of kindness and free hugs on video, the 22-year-old Melbourne social media star has been dealing with the horrors of the war in Ukraine (Harrison Pawluk, right, is pictured with his mother Diana Pawluk, who had a first cousin in Ukraine during the start of the Russian invasion)
Harrison, a university student, is speaking out against Russian atrocities, past and present, after President Vladimir Putin this month pledged to deploy 300,000 military reservists as Ukrainians regain territory.
“I find it deeply revolting that an independent nation was attacked without any provocation,” he said.
‘So many innocent people have been tortured and killed and those who have been lucky enough to survive have been left with nothing but ruins or have had to flee to other countries.
‘I am so proud of the determination, unwavering spirit and resilience of the Ukrainian people to fight and reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
‘I hope to visit and help rebuild when the time comes.’
Diana said her cousin, who wants to remain anonymous for security reasons, had lived through eight years of Russia’s attempts to destabilize Ukraine, only to be surprised by the invasion seven months ago.
“Although my family in Ukraine was aware of some destabilization in the country and was directly affected by a massive cyber attack at the time, the general consensus among them and their friends was that a full-scale attack was not going to happen,” she said. .
Diana was in contact with her relatives in February when Russian troops massed along the Ukrainian border and said she had urged them to flee Ukraine. When the Russians attacked on February 24, they took refuge in a bunker under their apartment (pictured is destruction in Kiev)
‘Having lived in the country with an ongoing war in the east for the past eight years, they had made some contingency plans in terms of where to seek refuge temporarily, but nothing had actually prepared them for what was unfolding.’
Diana was in contact with her relatives in February when Russian troops massed along the Ukrainian border and said she had urged them to flee Ukraine.
When the Russians attacked on February 24, they took refuge in a bunker under their apartment.
On day two of the invasion, they went upstairs back to their apartment to pack some clean clothes and water back to the bunker.
“They assumed it was safe to do so,” Diana said.
‘Within moments of arriving at the apartment, they were caught in the attack – it started raining missiles.
– Trapped and unable to get out, they sent me a message as they were in a panic and didn’t know what to do.
‘At the time I was in the car in Melbourne and I could hear my phone pinging furiously and I got worried so I stopped only to realize the gravity of the situation they were in.
Despite the war, Ukraine’s postal services continue to deliver mail, and Diana’s cousin was able to send her a postcard in English
‘The message asked if I was aware of the bomb situation in Kiev as it was hard to tell the real facts from the fiction from what they had read, that they were scared and trapped and missiles were coming down around their block of flats.
“The most harrowing thing was being asked if they wanted to die.”
After surviving the bombing, Diana’s cousin managed to escape to Poland.
“A few days later they re-established contact to let me know that they were trying to get over to the Polish border with the help of the military and a group of other Ukrainians they had come to know,” said Diana.
‘They moved between bunkers, a series of tunnels and subways only at night and between explosions.’
Despite the war, Ukraine’s postal services continue to deliver mail, and Diana’s cousin was able to send her a postcard in English.
‘Diana, thank you again for your support. It is very important for our country right now, it said.
“God bless your soul.”
Harrison said the situation was particularly harrowing for his family given that his great, great uncles on his mother’s side had disappeared and possibly been murdered during the 1930s, when Soviet communist dictator Joseph Stalin sent Ukrainians to gulags, or forced labor camps as part of an enforced famine
But Diana said her cousin had witnessed Russian war crimes when they fled Ukraine.
“A week or so later I got word that they had made it out of Ukraine safely, but it came at a price,” she said.
‘They had witnessed countless atrocities committed by Russian soldiers along the way which had a profound effect on their mental health.’
Diana’s cousin has since moved from Poland to a neighboring country, but wants to return to Ukraine one day.
“At this time, they are trying to establish a sense of normalcy until it is safe to go back to Ukraine,” she said.
‘Ukrainians in general are very resilient people and their desire for democracy will never expire.
“All they want is a sovereign and modern Ukraine without Russian influence, and we won’t stop until we get it.”
Donations to Ukrainians caught in the war can be made through Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisation, Caritas and Ukrainian Guardian Angels