Kilometer-long lines of cars wait for hours in front of the main border crossings connecting Ukraine with Poland. Abandoned vehicles also appear on the roads. Those who were traveling inside decided to leave them on the road after running out of gasoline and not being able to refuel. Others got tired of waiting and chose to walk. Some women and children manage to cross the border, but continue to look back, having learned then and there that their husbands, brothers or adult children would not be able to accompany them.
Residents of Kiev and Lviv, between shock and flight due to the Russian invasion: “This is inexplicable”
About 30,000 Ukrainian citizens have arrived in Poland since the start of the Russian offensive, according to the latest data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but the numbers are increasing by the minute. Around 17,500 have arrived in Moldova. UNHCR estimates that nearly 50,000 refugees have fled Ukraine in less than 48 hours, with many more heading for its borders. Only women, children and men over 60 years of age can leave the country.
“We have been working non-stop for two days,” Anna Alboth, an activist at the Hope Project organization, which has supported migrants in the country for years, says by phone. “According to our estimate, in front of the Polish border crossings there are about 100,000 people waiting to cross. Everything is going very slowly, because the computer systems are not working well.”
Those who manage to cross the border of Poland, whose authorities have opened the doors to their Ukrainian neighbors after the start of the Russian invasion, are finding a society “overturned” to receive them, says Alboth. The organization’s biggest concerns are not on the other Polish side of the border: “There is a humanitarian crisis just before people enter Poland, at the border, because some people have to wait for days without being prepared. Many had to leave their homes very quickly. They don’t have enough clothes, they don’t have enough food or water. We are looking for ways to reach them.”
Liliya (not her real name) walked for hours in one of those lines that seem eternal and decided to go back, she explains to elDiario.es through her aunt. Her town, located on the outskirts of Lviv, is relatively close to the Polish border, but obstacles along the way pushed them to postpone their plans to move to the neighboring country. “There was a lot of traffic and it took us hours to get to Mostyska [ciudad próxima a uno de los pasos fronterizos]. We decided to park there and start walking. We walked 14 kilometers, we were already at the border, but ambulances kept passing by, it was dark and the children were crying a lot…”, the Ukrainian explains by phone. “We saw a lot of people crowding. Very panic. We were afraid that something would happen to us.” They turned around.
They don’t know if they will try again tomorrow or if they will wait a little longer. If they leave, their husbands stay behind. If they stay, they fear putting their lives and the lives of their children at risk. Their village has yet to come under any Russian attack and they feel they have some room to wait, but the sounds of the shelling, though distant, make them uneasy. Also the alerts that, from time to time, recommend the neighbors to take shelter in an underground place. They have family in Spain and would like to move to Madrid for a while, but are worried about paperwork. One of them has an expired passport and two of her children only have their birth certificates.
Only women, children and the elderly
“They are leaving on foot, in cars, on trains, buses… as they can. We know that queues are taking place in various places and times of the day,” says the spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Spain. . Oksana, who wanted to send her youngest daughter to Poland, has received information about the collapse of the border with Poland, the closest to her house. She is afraid of putting her daughter at risk during the waiting hours, so she has not yet made a decision: “We want her out, but I don’t want to put her in more danger than she already is. Why leave a girl in a queue 20 kilometers of cars and people, in the cold… We are going to wait and study other ways, such as sending it to Hungary or Romania”.
Andriy accompanied his wife and two-year-old son to the border, but stayed behind. After traveling the 200 kilometers that separates their city (Ivano-Frankivsk) from the nearest border crossing, they approached the border on Thursday night, with the intention of crossing it together: “I found out at that very moment that they could only leave women, children and the elderly, due to Martial Law. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 have to stay,” he regrets by sending several messages, which he suddenly interrupts: “The alarm sounds. We’re going to the shelter. There is no internet there. Pray for us.”
The 27-hour journey was worth it for Iryna because, she says, her five-year-old son can rest easy. “If my son smiles and jumps, it’s because he’s here in Poland. He didn’t know about the bombing, we’ve avoided that trauma,” explains the Ukrainian woman, sheltered by a Polish family in Lublin, along with her mother and little boy.
“You may think that it is not the best option to leave my country, maybe I should join the army, but in those moments you have to make quick and difficult decisions. From here I can help, I am trying to organize groups to get the international community to move If I was there, hiding underground, I would be very stressed and totally useless because I’m not trained to be in a war.”
who manage to leave
On Thursday, February 24, when Russia launched the offensive against Ukraine, Iryna made the decision. “At five in the morning I heard the sounds of the bombs, I grabbed my things very quickly, like in 20 minutes, I took the car with my mother and my son and we left for the border. We made a stop to buy more things: water, food and gasoline. There were a lot of cars. It took us more than a day to get it. At the border we waited around five hours, stopped, in the car,” details the woman, who appreciates the generosity of the Polish people: “As soon as we crossed they came to us. to ask if we needed anything. They gave us water, food and medicine for my mother. People are being very kind and loving to us.”
The Hope Project activist ratifies her words: “There is a lot of response from Polish society. Families leaving their homes to sleep, thousands of people making donations… There are many projects and initiatives. It’s exciting.”
Iryna lived in a city located 10 kilometers from Kiev, crossed this Friday by Russian troops on their way to the capital: “Today [el viernes] It’s been a dark day for my city. Buildings have been bombed. My office has been bombed. Today I have seen horrible photos of my destroyed workspace. My table, the place where I used to work, all my documents, my best books… Everything has been bombed.”
“Our future is destroyed”
Once safe, with time to think, Iryna begins to assimilate the consequences of the Russian offensive against her country. “I go on Facebook and see the places I used to go to have been destroyed. It’s very painful when I think that, three days ago, I didn’t imagine that this was going to happen with us. There had been news about the possible war for months, but we didn’t we believed, we trusted that we lived in a democratic country, that it was not possible… We never saw it. Now we are here. I look back and see that, a few days ago, I had gone to the cinema with my son. I think how important it is to live your simple days, your routine, in your country. I’ve lost all my things. I’ve lost my home. I’ve lost my perfume, my books, my clothes… It’s the least important thing, but it’s all gone.”
From Poland, he tries to convey to European society how volatile the peace to which we have become accustomed can be: “My mother cries every time she watches the news. She wonders about the future, about our plan, but there is nothing We don’t know how long we’re going to be here. Our dreams are destroyed. Our plan for the future is destroyed. Everything is destroyed.” She calls for empathy to translate into greater international support “Our military is strong but it’s not enough. Russia has been preparing for years… We are alone. And we don’t know what’s next.”