The western borders of Ukraine have become a sieve – a revolving door of despair. More than three million people have fled Ukraine; that’s nearly seven percent of the country’s entire population.
Tetiana Andreeeva, her two young daughters, and her cat, spent 22 hours on a train from their home in Southern Ukraine to the Polish border town of Medyka. When they arrived, the chaos they left behind was, for a moment, replaced with compassion … a serving of pizza.
But their journey was just beginning. They were soon boarding a bus going deeper into Poland, where they hope to catch another bus that would take them to Germany.
Andreeeva said that 11-year-old Ania and 6-year-old Irina have been spared the grim details, for the most part. “I tried protecting my children,” she said. “I am not giving them all information that I have.”
UNICEF estimates at least one million of the refugees are children; the rest are women and the elderly – a human catastrophe on a scale that Europe hasn’t seen since World War II.
“Don’t believe that this will be over quickly,” said David Miliband, the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee.
Correspondent Lee Cowan asked, “As bad as this is, over three million people so far, how bad do you think it might get?”
“However much we hope for the best, we should plan for the worst,” Miliband replied. “And planning for the worst means figures of five or even seven, or in some estimates 10 million people, leaving the country.”
Those kinds of dire predictions have already triggered a never-before-used directive that allows refugees to stay and work in EU countries for up to three years. “The approach was, let people in first, do the paperwork second,” Miliband said. “And that’s a very significant reaction, and it speaks to the scales of the crisis.”
But Miliband said the exit out of Ukraine is only part of the problem: “We have to remember that for every person who makes it out of Ukraine, there are ten still inside Ukraine.”
Russia’s cruel indifference to providing humanitarian corridors have left those inside the country virtually cut off. Those who can leave carry with them baggage of a different sort, including those covering the conflict, like award-winning photojournalist Peter Turnley.
Turnley told Cowan, “I ran into a journalist, and he asked me what I had experienced. And I told him the sense of guilt that I felt that I could walk away from the situation and the people that I had seen could not. And I literally, without warning, just began to sob.”
He captured in an instant what words never could, but if there’s one emotion that overwhelmed them all, he said, it was a sense of loss.
This image, of a man named Vitali saying goodbye to his family in Kyiv, haunts him still: “He stood on the tracks for a long, long time, and he and his wife and daughter just stared at each other. But suddenly the train just left. And it was like, it was like breath had just, air had just come out of a balloon, but you couldn’t get it back. And I remember feeling this incredible sense of pain for this gentleman, Vitali, that just had lost contact with his wife and child. And the destiny for all three of them was completely unknown.”
If Vladimir Putin’s goal was in part to create a refugee crisis to destabilize Western democracies, politically, so far, he’s failed. What he has succeeded in doing, however, is testing the limits of human cruelty.
Turnley said, “This moment feels very dark. And as so many people have been forced to leave the country, one has a sense as well that a lot of light and illumination has been taken away from their hearts.”
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Story produced by Alan Golds, Mikaela Bufano and T. Sean Herbert. Editor: Joseph Frandino.
Ukraine In Turmoil