The Ukrainian Exodus at the Polish Border


On Tuesday morning, within the ready space of the Przemysl railway station, Kateryna Popko, a nineteen-year-old Ukrainian medical scholar, sat together with her mom, Tatiana. The station is a couple of miles contained in the Polish border with Ukraine, and the ticket corridor was crowded with refugees from the battle. Some slept on baggage, and others fed their infants bottles of system. Volunteers carrying high-visibility jackets tried to convene teams to depart on buses. Cops moved among the many throng, making an attempt to determine methods wherein they might assist or clear the logjam.

Kateryna and Tatiana had not been planning to depart their residence in Dnipro, a metropolis six-hundred and fifty miles to the east, in Ukraine. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, in 2014, Tatiana, a furnishings producer, had redesigned her home with a bolstered basement. Within the occasion that Russia ever invaded Ukraine once more, she thought, her household would at the least have someplace secure to remain. However then, final week, as Russian troops superior, a pal persuaded her {that a} bolstered basement may not be sufficient. She and Kateryna determined to take a practice to Lviv, a Ukrainian metropolis close to the border with Poland, after which to make their approach into Poland itself.

The journey was lengthy and troublesome, however the girls instructed their story with no self-pity. Kateryna, pale-faced and with a girlish side-braid in her hair, even appeared to take some pleasure in it, usually pulling out her cellphone to point out an image of this or that calamity. In her retelling, the gang of people that boarded the service from Dnipro to Lviv was so nice that each inch of flooring within the practice automobile was taken, together with individuals sleeping on roll-up mattresses. Some passengers even stuffed themselves into the overhead baggage racks. Most of the individuals on board had no tickets. The practice was scheduled to depart Dnipro at 2:30 p.m. however departed late, and stopped regularly. When it handed areas the place preventing was taking place—close to the capital, Kyiv, and town of Bila Tserkva—the lights minimize out. The ladies arrived in Lviv at 11 a.m. the next day, already exhausted.

Tatiano Popko ready in Poland.

From Lviv, Kateryna and Tatiana took a bus, which stopped almost 4 miles in need of the Polish border. It was already night, and horribly chilly. They started to stroll the remaining miles. At 9 p.m., nearing the border, they had been instructed by an official that there could be a nine-hour wait till they could possibly be processed. They had been proven to a college the place they might sleep, alongside different individuals fleeing the violence. Volunteers had established meals stations within the school rooms. One household had a three-day-old child with them. (Kateryna shook her head in pity at this level within the story.) No person obtained a lot sleep. The subsequent day, a bus took them to the border, which they crossed at Medyka, with out bother.

Now in Poland, the ladies had been awaiting associates who had been arriving from Lviv by practice. They had been all hoping to journey to Finland collectively, the place they’d family members and associates who might assist them. They surmised that the rest of the journey may take two days by automobile. The ladies realized they won’t return to their residence for some time. “I feel the Russians will bomb every little thing, and there shall be nowhere to return again to,” Tatiana mentioned. Kateryna was already contemplating tips on how to proceed her medical research in Finland.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered an exodus of lots of of hundreds of individuals. Many are travelling west, the place Poland has promised to obtain them. Poland has not all the time been such a pal to refugees. Within the fall, it refused asylum to a gaggle of Afghans fleeing the Taliban takeover of their nation, and it’s at present constructing a wall on its Belarussian border to maintain immigrants out. However its generosity within the face of this disaster has been warming. Officers from a lot of Poland’s authorities businesses, and from its emergency providers, are actually at work helping individuals crossing the border. In a single transit middle for housing and processing refugees, located at a large meals depot aptly named Hala Kijowska—“Kyiv Corridor”—I noticed a Polish soldier gallantly carrying the luggage of a girl in her sixties, at the same time as he barked directions to a gaggle of youthful Ukrainians to comply with him to a bus.

A number of girls I spoke to carried with them tales of people that couldn’t be persuaded to depart. Tatiana Doctorova had pushed from Kyiv together with her two teen-age daughters, a separate household of 4, and a cat named Gabriele, in a medium-sized automobile. She instructed me that her mom had remained within the metropolis of Sumy, close to the Russian border, the place there was preventing. Regardless of the hazard, she couldn’t be satisfied to flee. Likewise, Doctorova’s sister, who lives together with her youngsters on the left financial institution of Kyiv, close to Doctorova, determined to remain, even after explosions shook her constructing. “She believes in our Military, and he or she thinks every little thing shall be O.Okay.,” Doctorova mentioned. “She could be very robust.”

Final week, Doctorova’s two daughters had been at school. Now they had been standing on the facet of a street in Poland, after an exhausting four-day journey, and with unsure prospects. They wore hoodies and nostril rings and Nike high-tops. They giggled usually and shrugged their shoulders after I requested troublesome questions. (“They’re younger,” Doctorova defined.) However I used to be stunned at how evenly their mom appeared to bear the dramatic modifications in her life. The household thought they may attempt to dwell in Germany, though they didn’t converse the language. Was she anxious concerning the future?

“Typically . . . I don’t know if I’m doing the best factor or not,” Doctorova mentioned. “I do have moments when I’m overcome with anxiousness and emotion . . . I nonetheless can’t imagine that is taking place.”

There are millions of comparable tales alongside the border: of lives upended and swiftly reimagined. President Volodymyr Zelensky has banned all males between the ages of eighteen and sixty from leaving Ukraine, so a lot of the refugees are girls or youngsters, or non-Ukrainian males who had been residing within the nation. (Most of the males are college students from creating nations, or present refugees from different conflicts, and their confusion is usually painful to witness; one Saudi scholar I spoke to had seemingly spent two days in line earlier than getting into Poland.) The Ukrainian girls which have fled fear for these left behind. Kateryna Popko instructed me that boys in her class had already signed as much as battle; she confirmed me an image of one among her male faculty associates in uniform.

However there may be additionally a counterflow. A stream of males is shifting east, from Poland again into Ukraine. I met a few of them at Medyka, the principle border crossing close to Przemysl. Medyka has not too long ago been the location of a big influx of refugees, however was a lot quieter on the day I visited, as a result of—I used to be instructed—extra individuals are actually being bused straight to transit facilities, moderately than ready on the checkpoint itself.

Mykhailo Kozlovskiy and Andrii Tsarenko are wide-shouldered Ukrainians who work as truck drivers round Europe. They’re each of their mid-forties, they usually every have a spouse and two youngsters in Ukraine. Strolling to the passport sales space, Tsarenko mentioned they had been going again “to guard their households and their lands.” They deliberate to affix up with a army group and battle the Russians. Kozlovskiy mentioned he had spent 13 years within the Ukrainian Military. Tsarenko had two years’ army expertise. They every carried two small baggage.

Andrii Tsarenko and Mykhailo Kozlovskiy returning to Ukraine to affix a army group preventing the Russians. 

“There isn’t a alternative,” Kozlovskiy mentioned, earlier than shaking my hand.

Vitalii Lysetskii, a thirty-eight-year-old development employee with a scar above his eye and a shaved head, got here to the border crossing along with his spouse, a chic lady carrying an extended fur coat. His spouse could be staying in Poland. His three youngsters, the youngest of whom is 2, remained in Ukraine, however could be leaving shortly. Lysetskii, who was from town of Uman, mentioned he was returning to Ukraine. Why, I requested?

“I’m going to barbecue,” he mentioned, drily. He was referring to killing Russians. He mentioned he would solely come again when he had “run out of fabric to barbecue.”

When Lysetskii mentioned goodbye to me, my Ukrainian translator engaged him with a greeting—“Glory to Ukraine!”—to which he responded, “Glory to the Heroes!” He laughed, then joined the road for passport management. He mentioned goodbye to his spouse, and no person cried.



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