‘They all have gone vacationing in Poland’

Amid destruction and deprivation, Ukrainians emerge as a people as cool as morning breeze, yet determined to fight till the last bullet.

Our first destination was Budapest, Hungary, where rescue operations of Indian students stuck in Ukraine was in full swing. Every student rescued was a story of trauma, pain and hope. It was overwhelming to learn that several bus drivers who brought students from areas close to conflict zones were Hungarian nationals, and they did not charge a single Euro. A few days later, I boarded a plane to Warsaw to cover unprecedented humanitarian crisis Poland was dealing with since the second World War. Around 3 million Ukrainians escaping missiles and air strikes back home crossed over into Poland. As soon as I landed in Warsaw, I went to border areas and came face to face with ugly realities of war we can never fathom to witness in the cosy comforts of our drawing rooms: families torn apart, people fleeing violence and vast citizenry unsure of a future in their homeland. Still, it was usual exodus for me till I realised something was amiss. I found many Ukrainian families, coming to Poland had no men accompanying them. There were either children or aged people. Ukraine had barred all able-bodied men between 18 and 60 years from leaving the country. The sight was heart rending. Desperate fathers seeing off their little daughters at border check points. The Pols know how their country had suffered during the second World War. So, they could easily connect with Ukrainian refugees and were extremely kind to them. From toys for children to dog food for pets, Ukrainian were bringing, they met all their needs to make them feel at home. After covering traumatic and painful stories in Poland, I decided to enter the Ukraine war zone. The biggest hurdle and a dampener of my spirit, however, was obtaining visa from the Consulate General of Ukraine in Lublin. The consulate overflooded with applications from Ukrainian and other European nationals, and an Indian journalist was least of their priorities. After a long wait for seven days, I was stamped and immediately headed towards Lviv. The Ukrainian city bordering Poland had been bombed 45 hours before my arrival. Somebody there suggested me to visit the Lublin Railway Station. What I saw there was a vast sea of humanity trying to somehow fit within its precincts. Realizing that it was not humanly possible to keep track of people coming in and going out, the Railway authorities decided not to charge tickets. One could simply go and board any train without buying a ticket. The next evening, when I boarded a train to Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine, I was surprised to find the coach all by myself. When I asked where all passengers have gone, the ticket collector jokingly told me, “They have gone for vacations in Poland.” Unfortunately, Kyiv was under curfew when I reached there the next morning. It took some string pulling before the army officers relented and escorted me to a hotel, occupied by special forces. I was advised to stay at the sixth floor of the 20 storied building. In case the building was hit by an enemy missile, they said, I could still hope to survive. My hosts also advised me not to use lifts and open camera without their permission. No issues, I assured them. The entire Kyiv wore the look of a ghost town with air sirens blaring warning of an air raid every half an hour. The same day, the Russians bombed Vinograd, a residential block of Kyiv. The bombing had left an eight-feet-deep crater, destroying everything within a radius of 100 feet. I was in the War Zone, I realized, then. Next early morning, en route to the nearby town of Bucha, where Russians and Ukrainians were fighting hand to hand, I saw numerous massive structures turned into rubble. In between filing ground reports, not a minute passed without the sound of gunshots and artillery fire ricocheting all around. Next day, a parking lot caught fire after a missile blitz hit the area, which almost caught all our crew members and we could barely made it to safety. What I saw and reported about was destruction in and around Kyiv. In the midst of devastation of war, I noticed a remarkable trait among the Ukrainians. They were as calm as morning breeze and very friendly, yet determined to fight till the last bullet. The fortitude and forbearance with which they were conducting themselves in the thick of war when making one day alive is a luxury left me amazed. The author is a journalist with iTV Network.