It's easy to talk about a war when it's somewhere far away, tens of thousands of miles from you. It even becomes trivial when you discuss it on Facebo
It’s easy to talk about a war when it’s somewhere far away, tens of thousands of miles from you. It even becomes trivial when you discuss it on Facebook, becoming just another like or dislike in the daily social media hunt. But the war becomes real when you interact with its victims.
If you find yourself among those who believe that there is no war in Ukraine or that Romanians and Westerners should not be concerned about this situation, do yourself a favor and don’t try to get out of your own ignorance.
The latest available data show that since the outbreak of the war more than 4.6 million Ukrainians have fled the country, while some 6.5 million have taken refuge in safer places within Ukraine. After Poland, Romania is the second largest recipient of Ukrainian refugees, many of whom are just in transit to Europe. Poland has received 2.7 million refugees, while Romania 700,000.
According to an IRES poll, 96% of respondents said that Romania should support Ukrainian refugees – an impressive percentage and a commendable attitude.
In the last two months I have interacted or consulted with over 150 Ukrainian refugees, and my few trips to Ukraine have helped me understand, to some extent, the tragedies experienced by people fleeing the horrors of Putin’s communist regime just hours away from Romania.
Most of the people I met did not want to leave Ukraine, their lives were stuck in a regular rhythm with a current or future purpose. Ukraine offered them the comfort they needed.
A, aged 39, ophthalmologist, had been working in Odessa for 15 years. Born in Georgia, her family of Armenian origin was forced to leave the country because of the Russian-backed military conflicts in Abkhazia in the 1990s; they settled in Ukraine, only to have to flee again 30 years later from a war provoked by the same Russia. She gave up her life and profession to go to a Western country and work in a restaurant. Part of the family stayed in Ukraine, in safer areas, waiting for Russian missiles to stop destroying their lives and their adopted country.
Many Ukrainians, some with well-defined professions, others young, at the beginning of their careers, came to the day when, frightened, they hastily gathered a few things and took the unknown path. Who can count the opportunities, the chances, the professions, the lives ruined by a wicked war?
10,000 km of homesickness
O and S, two sisters from Odessa, fled to Romania in order to reach the United States. Coronavirus procedures and restrictions kept them in Romania for a month, and they were unable to board a plane to the US where some of their family was waiting for them. O described to me in detail the streets of Odessa, the architecture of the buildings, the shores of the Black Sea and told me she had bought a return ticket for August.
To my surprise, both girls were on their fifth, sixth visit to the US, but they had no intention of moving there, but were constantly thinking of returning to their homelands. O writes to me from time to time that even though she is on the Atlantic coast, she thinks longingly of Odessa.
L, 50, was born in the Ural Mountains in Russia. He graduated a Bible school and in his younger years did missionary work in former Soviet countries whose names are hard to pronounce. That’s how she met her future Ukrainian husband and they have lived together in Ukraine for 20 years. They have three children.
While serving us a delicious meal in the small Ukrainian town we were visiting that afternoon, L said she felt guilty for what Russia was doing to the Ukrainian people. She felt a burden, a stigma generated by the horrors committed by the Russian army over the past two months; she didn’t understand why her people were killing the Ukrainian people.
I have also met Ukrainians who have brothers and relatives in Russia; Ukrainian soldiers who in turn have brothers or cousins in the Russian army, all of which made me realize, once again, how absurd this war can be.
Americans who adopted Ukraine
T is of Colombian origin, 41 years old and was adopted by a US family at the age of ten. Seven years ago he married a Ukrainian woman and contrary to custom, they did not stay in the US but moved to Kharkiv, Ukraine. They opened a thriving business, integrated well and decided that their lives were closely tied to a growing city.
Today, Kharkiv is almost entirely destroyed by Russian missiles: not only military targets have been targeted, but civilian buildings, hospitals, schools, kindergartens, parks. When he realized the situation was getting worse, T took his wife and 5-year-old daughter and fled to Bucharest, Romania.
T and his family could leave for the US at any time, but they chose to stay in Romania not only for their safety, but to help their friends who remained in Kharkiv to defend their city and their livelihood. He told me about the needs faced by men who choose to volunteer to fight in Ukraine, but also about the sacrifice of some of his friends who died, again, in a wicked war.
One Friday, when I was waiting for my stamped passport to enter Ukraine, I was approached by G – he was driving a van registered in Ukraine and was accompanied by his wife and two teenage daughters. They were on their way to Ukraine to retrieve their belongings that they had left behind when they left the country under attack in a hurry.
G noticed the compact convoy of minibuses I was part of and asked me where we were going; I detailed and asked him what he was doing there. G is American and for the past 15 years has been living in Ukraine, involved in a humanitarian mission with orphanages, living near Kiev. They immediately fled to Romania, but they didn’t go to the US – their heart is in Ukraine.
For now, the flow of refugees from Romania’s borders has slowed down, but the latest reports from eastern Ukraine are not good. The pressing situation in Mariupol, Nikolaev, the intensification of attacks in Odessa, especially the discovery of horrors caused by the barbarians of the Russian army, all maintain a state of anxiety and helplessness.
The experiences of the last two months are many, complex and profound, and difficult to put into words. The war is real, and the tragedies of its victims are even more real – and they are also crossing Romania.