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Travel Fleeing the War in Ukraine, I Was Reminded of the Generosity of Strangers

03:35  07 april  2022
03:35  07 april  2022 Source:   cntraveler.com

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  Fleeing the War in Ukraine, I Was Reminded of the Generosity of Strangers © Robert Anasch/Unsplash

For a social anxiety sufferer like me, being surrounded by people for prolonged periods is panic-inducing. But when you flee a war, you don’t choose who you surround yourself with. You don’t get privacy. You can’t ask for peace and quiet.

On February 24, I woke up to terrifying news: “Russia’s bombed Kyiv.” My partner and I were staying at my Dad’s house in the Kyiv suburbs—we’d heard reports of “something heavy” possibly happening in central Kyiv, where I rent an apartment. Bombs were soon landing not just in the city I call home, but all over: in the south, east, north, and west. It was my partner who said that we needed to get to the west of the country to try and cross into Poland. Unlike me and other Ukrainians, he had no internal dilemma over whether to flee or stay—he’s British. He didn’t have that same attachment to Ukraine.

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It quickly became clear that we couldn’t stay. And so we embarked on a 1,800-mile journey from Kyiv to the safety of the U.K., joining thousands of others flocking to the pedestrian crossing into Poland that same day; some attempting to rescue their children from war, others hoping to help their country however they could from a place of safety, or in the case of non-Ukrainians like my partner, to get back home.

My father drove us the first 336 miles from the outskirts of Kyiv to Lviv—a ride that normally takes around six or seven hours but on this drive, took 10. On our way, we saw hours-long lines for gas stations and columns of military vehicles going in the other direction. The scenes, the closest to which I had previously only witnessed during military parades, felt surreal.

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After my father dropped us off on the outskirts of Lviv, we tried to get a taxi into the city center. All the usual options were unavailable, with services like Bolt and Uber telling us they had no drivers. In time, we found a taxi driver, a local man in his late 30s, who agreed to take us. He told us that we would be his final fare. “Of the night?” I asked. “My final fare,” he replied. The following morning he was joining the Ukrainian defense forces and going to fight for his country.

Lviv is normally a lively city but that night it was a ghost town. Most cafes and bars had closed. We grabbed some burger buns from a supermarket before heading to a popular football-themed pub in the city center run by our friends. It was closed but they let us in, offering slices of cheese to accompany our buns, and a refuge for a couple of hours. We ate and then got ourselves to a friend’s place.

Kyle, who is originally from Northern Ireland but has lived and worked in Lviv for eight years, not only put us up but offered to drive us the 40 or so miles to the Ukraine-Poland border. He didn’t hesitate to offer when my partner mentioned our plans to him. Like my father, he didn’t complain that the journey, which normally takes a little over an hour but this time took six hours. It took him almost as long to get back home. When we thanked him for what he had done, he said: “Nothing to thank me for. If the circumstances were reversed, you would do the same for me.”

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Despite being able to go home to Northern Ireland, Kyle has stayed behind with his Ukrainian girlfriend. They are actively helping Ukraine by working to ensure that humanitarian aid from elsewhere in Europe is able to get into the country.

Finally, we had reached the border with Poland. There was a lot of crushing and pushing as we moved closer and people’s impatience grew, many having spent hours upon hours on foot. There was no food, water, medical support, crowd control, or toilet facilities. Next to me, there was a twenty-something woman fleeing with a black French bulldog, Boomer, who was understandably terrified.

As part of a group of women who were making a push for the front of the line, Boomer’s owner eventually decided to rush toward the security gate. I watched her quickly realize amid the crush that she would be unable to hold on to both Boomer and her suitcase. She abandoned all her belongings and disappeared with Boomer into the throng.

Shortly after, I saw a woman drop her kids off and retreat back to the Ukraine side—she had chosen to stay.

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Throughout our journey I encountered a range of human beings and their stories. I have tried to manage my social anxiety for years, but the danger that I found myself in taught me that being with strangers can be an opportunity for acts of kindness, selflessness, and generosity—from those who may not owe you anything.

Once across the border in Poland, we were overwhelmed with support and hospitality, having not eaten, drunk, or been to the toilet for 23 hours. There were offers of free food and hot drinks; strangers volunteered rides and accommodation.

Among the dozens of volunteers, two Ukrainian men who now live in Poland ending up driving us the two-and-a-half hours to our Airbnb in Kraków. They even carried our bags to and from the car.

We didn’t get their names, and they refused money for gas. We couldn't even get their contact information to thank them later. It was an act of unconditional giving—and a reminder of our humanity.

You can find information on how to help those affected by the war in Ukraine here.

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usr: 0
This is interesting!