Today is the eleventh day of the war, and we feel the weight of this crisis heavier than ever. We expect it will only get more and more difficult from here. The UN estimates that 15 million refugees will flee from Ukraine before too long. Already, and estimated 1.5 million have fled their homes. This is quickly becoming the biggest humanitarian crisis Europe has seen since WW2.
The last few days have been intense. Liviu’s phone has not stopped ringing, day and night, there are people who need help. We cannot help everyone, but we do what we can. We count every life and every family brought to safety as a great victory.
We count every life and every family brought to safety as a great victory.
One of our new Ukrainian friends who we’ve been in close contact with for a few days now, finally managed to get herself out of the country. She chose to go through Hungary, which was unfortunate, because there was very little we could do for her there. In the end, a trip that should have taken her 6 hours, lasted over 24 hours, as she had to spend endless hours in a cue, waiting for a piece of paper, at the Hungarian border crossing. Throughout her difficult journey, we were in touch with her over the phone, providing emotional support and logistical guidance as best we could. Needless to say, neither she nor we slept much that night, but hearing her laugh of relief as she finally got checked into a hotel in Budapest made it all worth it. To our great delight and joy, she is now on a flight to Ankara, where a new job as English teacher is waiting for her. Our next task will be to bring her elderly mother and younger sister out of Ukraine and onto a plane to join her in Ankara.
Yesterday, we got hold of an old minivan and drove to the border of Halmeu (north-west). We were there to pick up a family of refugees, originally from Kyiv, but now coming from Uzghorod. This family was some of our closest contacts in Ukraine until now, and, from their temporary home in Uzghorod, they’ve been helping us coordinate the extraction of people from Kyiv, Kharkiev and other war-torn areas. After receiving news that one of their close friends was killed trying to leave Kyiv, they made the difficult decision that it was time to get themselves out of the country. Two young boys, their parents, an 83-year old aunt and their pet turtle, each carrying their own suitcases (with the obvious exception of our new friend little dude turtle!), walked across the border from Ukraine to Romania. We send you attached the picture of the family as they come towards us in Halmeu.
Not surprisingly, it was an emotional encounter for all of us. Tears were constantly close to the surface, as they were dealing with a multitude of mixed feelings – thankfulness that they were safe and taken care of, relief for being safe, hopelessness and grief over everything and everyone they lost, fear and anxiety for what comes next, for all their friends and family left behind, and so much more. While the little boys were filled with joy over having received a McDonalds care package, their father finally let his tears flow, allowing himself to be held by Liviu, the crying poet. We were all wrecked.
Driving away from the border and towards Cluj, the family was getting increasingly relaxed, as the weight of the ever-present terror they’ve been living under slowly lifted. For now, at least, they are safe.
Driving away from the border and towards Cluj, the family was getting increasingly relaxed, as the weight of the ever-present terror they’ve been living under slowly lifted. For now, at least, they are safe. We want to thank each and every one of you for enabling us to help this Ukrainian family in such a practical way. We couldn’t do it without your on-going support.
As for our plans, we can only take things one day, one person, one family at a time. We know many volunteers, front-line workers, are already burning out and collapsing with exhaustion. We also know that the worst is yet to come. As we keep telling ourselves, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we don’t want to run out of energy or resources before we even begin. The coming week will be tough, and we’re bracing ourselves. We are in contact with a few families who are making plans to get across the border, and we are prepared to meet them and take care of them when they do. Their journeys are dangerous and we pray for their safety.
People who flee from war are refugees, but they are first of all humans, and we were strongly reminded to never underestimate the importance of human-to-human interactions.
If you have any questions about what is going on, or suggestions for people we should be in touch with, please do not hesitate to contact us. If you know anyone who would like to contribute or who would like to receive our updates, please tell them to get in touch with us (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we will happily add them to our Ukraine mailing list.
PS: There’s a great system in place at the border, with volunteers on three-hour shifts handing out hot tea, water, sandwiches, cosmetics, blankets and other essentials. Everyone is doing their part, and the generosity and kindness of the Romanian people is overwhelming. While waiting in the cold, we also met a young family from Kharkiev, and we had a good time with them as we tried to encourage, listen and advise. The young boy was very excited to practice his English, and he loved talking with Liviu.