Top ‘Final Fantasy XIV’ Streamer Will Flee Ukraine With Cameras Rolling
One of the most popular Final Fantasy XIV content creators plan to flee his home in Kyiv, Ukraine ahead of a possible Russian invasion.
Zepla is a content creator wearing bunny ears for the critically acclaimed MMO Final Fantasy XIV. Every YouTube video she puts together begins with a warm smile and a friendly, “hey buns.” In a recent video, she started a other, telling her fans and community that she may have to flee the country soon.
I caught up with her on Discord a few days after she posted the video explaining the situation. “I’m stressed on the next level right now,” she told me. “It’s a very surreal feeling here in Kyiv, because a lot of people I know are considering either leaving, evacuating, or staying and potentially fighting.”
Zepla said it was strange walking around Kyiv right now. She’s been in Ukraine for about eight years, but grew up in Louisiana and likened the feeling to times before a hurricane hit. “Everyone is getting ready, you decide if you’re going out or not, or if you’re going to hit the road,” she said. “But it’s weirder than that and it’s worse than that.” At least in a hurricane you see the dark clouds above you, you know something is coming. It’s obvious. You can feel it in the wind, you can feel it in the air that the rain has come. You can see the lighting on the horizon.
“But here it’s still nice, sunny days,” she said. “And it’s still everyone going about their business as usual. And you’ll be in a restaurant and you’ll hear people talking to each other about whether they want to leave or stay and fight. And yet, there is a normalcy around everything. That’s the most disturbing thing about it.
She said it didn’t seem quite real. “I look at the city and wonder if the next time I see it will be completely different,” she said. “Will the buildings I see here still be there when I return? What type of damage can I recover? It almost sounds like a fantasy. It couldn’t happen when everything seems so normal now, but we have to be prepared.
His family in America exacerbates this stress. “My parents are begging me to leave now… they’re completely losing their minds, they’re freaking out,” she said. “And obviously that freaks me out too, because I want them to calm down. But I can’t leave now either. I can’t leave yet.
What’s holding Zepla back? She is an American citizen and could, technically, leave whenever she wanted. But she has a life in Kiev. She owns a house. And, more importantly, she has a cat and one dog she doesn’t want to leave behind. Getting animals out of Ukraine is tricky, especially if you want to take them to the U.S. Currently, the CDC does not allow transportation of local pets as Ukrainian dogs are considered at high risk for rabies.
“I don’t know if leaving my pets with a sitter would be the safest thing for them either, you know?” she said. “I don’t want to leave them behind in what could be a war zone. I don’t know when I could come back to them. What does the person looking at them also want to evacuate? It’s just too many question marks.
Zepla said she should get passports for her animals this week. “Afterwards, I will go.”
“But here, the weather is still nice, sunny days and everyone is still going about their business as usual. And you’ll be in a restaurant and you’ll hear people talking to each other about whether they want to leave or stay and fight. And yet, there is a normalcy around everything. That’s the most disturbing thing about it.
Zepla moved to Ukraine in 2014 at the end of the Maidan revolution, just as Ukraine’s current problems with Russia began. In 2014, Ukrainians gathered in Maidan Square in Kyiv to protest government corruption and demand a closer relationship with the European Union. Riot police descended on the scene and the protests became street battles. There were snipers, flaming barrels and medieval battle tactics. Eventually the protesters overthrew the government and then President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia with the help of Russian special operations forces soldiers.
“When I arrived in Kyiv, there were still barricades and burnt cars on the streets,” Zepla said. “And people were really happy that Yanukovych was gone, for a good reason. It was a pretty scary situation, but I wasn’t really scared. My family, on the other hand, didn’t really approve of my decision to come.
Zepla was not broadcasting Final Fantasy XIV at the time. She lived what she described as a free-wheeling lifestyle. She was teaching English in Taiwan when she befriended some Ukrainians and decided that Ukraine looked like a good place to live. “I wanted to go teach in Ukraine,” she said. “I wish I could say it was for a better reason than that.”
She started broadcasting two years after her stay and quickly gained an audience. She has over 300,000 subscribers on her main YouTube account and over 200,000 subscribers on Twitch. “It became my full-time job,” she said. “So I had no reason to leave. And I’m pretty comfortable here. Living in Kyiv has been wonderful.
“We’ve seen them crack down on corruption,” she said. “We’ve seen the city become more progressive,” she said. “It looks like Ukraine has taken positive steps in the right direction…until Putin.”
Zepla said she loves the Russian people and pointed out that Ukraine and Russia have many ties. The problem, she says, is Putin. “I really think it’s threatened by the fact that Ukraine is a thriving democracy where people are free to choose their own destiny,” she said. “Obviously that is a direct threat to him, because it could serve as a very inspiring example to people in his own country who might also decide that they would like to move towards a democratic future.”
Whenever the political issues behind the war arose, Zepla opposed them. “Look, I can’t pretend to be some kind of geopolitical analyst,” she said. “I try to be informed, but I have no illusions about my credentials either. I am a Final Fantasy XIV Twitch streamer who wears bunny ears while streaming everyday.
And Zepla sticks to this daily routine, despite the imminent threat of war. It broadcasts 3 to 4 hours a day, five days a week. She also interacts with her community on Discord, edits YouTube videos and studies Japanese. “I try to welcome distractions,” she said. “It is time that I did not think about the situation. As soon as the stream is over, I think about the situation.
She hopes pet passports will arrive soon and she can get out before an invasion. “I just need to hope nothing happens for another week,” she said. “A lot of people here seem to think there will be an attack in mid-February, that’s what everyone is talking about right now.”
Zepla owns a house in Kiev and she doesn’t want to leave everything behind. She talked about coming back, even if she had to jump through the red tape to get back if Russia took Kiev. “I just don’t see that actually happening,” she said. “I don’t think they’re prepared for that level of long-term urban warfare, it would be catastrophic for them…I think they’d probably do something very quick and try to get security concessions from the West. Maybe they’ll take part of the east. Who knows? Who knows?”
Zepla, like all Ukrainians, has lived with this for a long time. After the Maidan revolution, Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donbass region along the Russian border began to take and hold territory. The war has been going on there for eight years. Zepla lived in Kharkiv, a city on the brink of conflict, for a year before moving to Kyiv. “I try never to forget what’s going on or take it out of my mind,” she said. “But I still have to get up and go to work, cook dinner and walk my dogs. If I think about it every second of every day, I’m going to lose my mind.
She said one of her pet peeves was Western media talking about how Russia could invade Ukraine. She pointed to the war in Donbass. “Russia invaded years ago,” she said. She also called on Western media to repeat the Kremlin’s talking points. “I have seen right-wing American media repeating Russian propaganda verbatim and it worries me greatly.”
I asked her what she wanted Americans to know about the war. “Again, I don’t want to position myself as some kind of authority. I just live in Kyiv and play Final Fantasy on the internet. Please remember this,” she said. “But I think Ukraine really deserves a chance at democracy. Ukraine deserves to determine its own future and destiny. More than anything, I hope people can remember this.
Zepla says the Final Fantastic XIV The community has been incredibly supportive with fans messaging her and offering her accommodations. As she wraps up her life in Kyiv and travels west, she says she will continue to do her job. “I plan to continue streaming as much as possible,” she said. “I will stop at Airbnbs and hotels and broadcast the whole way.”
She feels responsible for the public she has built, for her buns. “I try to be my best for them,” she said. “And show them there’s no need to panic. I have it under control. We will go through this together. »