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Escape from Ukraine

On Thursday morning, 24th February at 7.34, a member of the Pictora staff received the following message from friends in Kharkiv on the eastern border of the Ukraine.  A city about 40 km from the Russian border.

"We have war".

"Me and the kids afraid".

"We didn't leave the country in time".

"Nobody I can ask for help".

The following is the account of how this young mother escaped Kharkiv to Poland,  a journey of approximately 1,283km, with her two small children and elderly mother.  It is told in her own words.

"The day started very scary with the sound of the siren.  We planned to leave and my godfather wanted to drive us to border.  However, a few hours later he said no we will not go and I lost the hope to save my kids.  It was very scary.

Later in the evening we found one man of 55yrs, who agreed to drive us to the border.  He drove us, but the line of cars was huge, about 20 kilometres long. 

It took 7 hours to get closest to border, but the last 30 kilometres we had to walk. This man did a great job, but he said that border will be closed in 2 hours.  So me, my elderly mother and kids took smallest bags we could, from most needed, and started to walk very fast.

We walked and walked for hours on the verge of the road.  There were fields on each side of the road and is was a very dark night.  We could not walk on the road because of oncoming cars driving from the Poland border.  The road was not straight and edge where we were forced to walk, was wet.

We walked in the wet, by cold fields and nothing else, except the long line of cars.  We got very cold and we asked a family if we could sit in their car to get warm.  For 3/4 hours we sat within the car, getting warm and dried out.  They could not drive us as they had many kids and waited for their sister with other kids to arrive to drive together.  It was beautiful family with 4 beautiful kids.  We will never forget their kindness. 

My mother could not walk fast so she said children go and we will meet near the border.  It was a very sad moment.  When she walked alone she fell down, hit her knees and crack her ribs. 

While we was getting warm in the car, my 68 old mother walked to the border herself.  She passed us, but we didn’t see her.  She was knocking, frozen, on the windows of over 30 cars, but nobody let her in.  So me and kids were very lucky to get warm by kind family. 

When we got to the border it was the second hardest part.  There is no place to warm up, all petrol stations on the way to border had a huge line, and it was not possible to get it or get warm with the kids. 

On the Ukraine border we were treated like animals.  There were kids, women and men.  The men were told to hold to a different side, but men didn’t listened, especially two foreign men, who were very rude pushing.  They did not care about the women with kids they were pushing.  They just wanted to get to the gates inside. 

The gates had barbed wire on the sides, sharp as knifes.  I stood with my back to secure the kids when people were pushing to entrance and was shouting please don’t push its cutting here.  

A foreign man hit my child on the back with elbows, and then said he will push my mother with her face to barbed wire.  After that I started to shout police, take this man away nobody came, but he got scared and got silent. 

Nobody cared there were kids, too small or just born.  All kids were crying, their mothers holding them in their hands and shaking to calm them down.

It was 8 hours of hell.  Cold so so cold, that feet was not possible to feel, kids cry they want to go home, but there is no home anymore.  There is no way back, no taxi, no cars who can bring you back.  Not possible to buy water, no toilets. 

If you was to go out from the line for some reason, when you come back everyone started shouting, like you was never here before. 

We were lucky to be there only 8 hours as people who were before us had be in line for 24 hours or 15 hours waiting.  Many gave up and left after waiting for 24 hours. 

After we got into the gates of border, it was another line of waiting for 8 hours in the cold.  If it would be warm weather, it would be totally ok.  But all the way with cold -5 Celsius.  

When we came to the Polish border, totally normal conditions for people, toilets, fast passport control.  When we came out at the Poland side, there was a TV channel recording and meeting people to interview.  The police around for security.  There was free water, free sandwiches, coffee teas, sweets for kids.  One of my kids could not be strong any more and just cried and cried.

There were buses ready to deliver for free, to any part of the Poland.  Also they said they can bring people to place where possible to wash and sleep.  Everyone was very helpful and kind. 

The taxi driver very, very kind he brought us to his home that we could use a clean toilet room.  His beautiful wife meet us and was so kind she placed all she had cooked on her table.  4 dishes they gave to us, adding fruits and a pack of juice. 

We got to a hotel at late late night, but the people on reception gave their food to us, they insisted.  It is when the food is given with so much love and care, it tastes most tasty.  I cannot thank the Grand Hotel Stamary in Zakopane enough for their kindness and help in our darkest of times.  They helped strangers fleeing from war, who were cold, hungry and homeless.

Today, I went to buy some street food, the girl from Ukraine gave many portions of baked cheese with jam for free. 

All Polish people are very kind and very helpful, such kindness I have never seen in any country before.  Anywhere I go, people understand that from my talking we are from Ukraine,  they all say we are with you and support you".

Pictora feels it is important for their story to be told and of all of us to offer support, where possible, in these difficult and frightening days.