12 New Surprising Insights From Our Trip to a War Zone

12 New Shocking Insights From Our Journey to a Struggle Zone


As my husband, Eric Haseltine, and I left Los Angeles final month to interview Ukrainian refugees in Germany, Poland, Czechia, and Ukraine, we had no concept that this journey would make such an ideal imprint on our life.

We flew from Los Angeles to Paris, France, and went to the Medical doctors With out Borders, a.okay.a. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) headquarters in Paris to interview a logistician coordinator who had simply come again from Ukraine. We additionally interviewed two MSF psychologists. Then we rented a automobile in Paris and drove throughout Germany and Poland to finish up in Rava-Ruska, Ukraine. On the best way again to Paris, we drove throughout the Czech Republic. The journey was crammed with adventures, unpredictable occasions, and stunning interviews with aid group volunteers and Ukrainians.

Listed here are the 12 strongest insights from our interviews with volunteers and Ukrainians.

1. For a lot of refugees, anger was not the dominant emotion:

Ukrainian refugees we interviewed in Germany and Poland weren’t all indignant on the Russians; they have been most frequently simply unhappy. Many mentioned that Ukraine is a peaceable nation, and all Ukrainians need is to dwell, work, and be pleased with their household.

Once we requested Olga, 31—a pregnant girl from the suburb of Donetz who left her husband combating in Ukraine and who now lives in Marpingen, Germany—why she wasn’t indignant on the Russians, she mentioned, “I can not condemn the entire nation of Russia; individuals are divided. I simply need my outdated life again.”

2. A variety of Ukrainians have been surprised on the assault:

A number of extremely educated Ukrainian refugees informed us that till February twenty fourth at 5:00 am, they could not consider that Russia would actually bodily assault Ukraine.

Timur (who lived in Kyiv earlier than the struggle) mentioned, “We’re within the twenty first century, and I assumed that, for certain, there can be a diplomatic option to keep away from a struggle.”

“No person believed the Russians would invade,” mentioned Natalia (who additionally lived in Kyiv earlier than the struggle). “No person had a plan to flee.”

 Chris Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., used with permission.

My husband, Eric Haseltine, and I are interviewing Daria in Krakow.

Supply: Chris Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., used with permission.

3. Some refugees mentioned they might really feel safer in war-zone Ukraine reasonably than in a secure, peaceable neighboring nation:

Daria, who we met in Krakow, Poland, informed us she missed her husband quite a bit.

Daria and her husband bought married in Kyiv lower than a 12 months in the past, and Daria was prepared to return to Kyiv the place her husband and oldsters have been. She mentioned she would really feel safer in Ukraine, the place her household and associates have been, reasonably than staying in a secure host nation, the place she had no household or associates.

In Poland, Daria mentioned she feels helpless and misplaced as a result of she can not plan for her future anymore. The place will she be subsequent week? Subsequent month? She didn’t know and that made her very anxious. But when she have been in Ukraine, she might be along with her husband and her mother and father and would do every little thing she might to assist her family and friends.

4. Some refugees had disagreeable experiences in host international locations:

A younger Ukrainian girl informed us that her automobile, from which she flew a Ukrainian flag, bought egged one night time in a German city with a big Russian group. One other younger girl mentioned a bus driver bought indignant along with her, telling her that due to her, he needed to pay an excessive amount of for gasoline.

 Chris Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., used with permission

We met Dmitri in Pilsen, Czech Republic.

Supply: Chris Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., used with permission

5. Lots of people in Russia nonetheless don’t consider there may be struggle in Ukraine:

Ukrainian Dmitri, whom we met in Pilsen, Czechia, had an everyday job throughout the day (he had been residing in Pilsen for 3 years) and helped Ukrainian refugees on his days off and within the evenings. Dmitri commented that shut relations who’ve settled in Russia don’t consider that there’s any hazard in Ukraine. They assume it’s all anti-Russian propaganda. Different folks we talked to confirmed that they’d household in Russia that didn’t consider there was struggle in Ukraine. These folks selected to consider Russian information.

6. Some refugees have been afraid to speak to us:

In Zamosc, Poland, Ukrainian refugees declined to speak to us as a result of they have been scared that in the event that they went again to Ukraine underneath Russian occupation, the Russians would take a look at their cell telephones and presumably kill them for having spoken with us.

 Chris Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., used with permission.

Vladimir, a Sant’Egidio volunteer in Brno, Poland, talked to us.

Supply: Chris Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., used with permission.

7. The infinite persistence of the Ukrainian folks:

Vladimir, a Sant’Egidio volunteer in Brno, Poland informed us that what struck him essentially the most was that Ukrainian folks would stand in line for hours in freezing snow or chilly rain with out being impatient.

Certainly, we noticed that with our personal eyes, after we have been there. Girls and youngsters waited patiently for his or her weekly distribution of milk, rice, and canned meat.

Once we crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border at Hrebenne, we noticed 4 kilometers of vans lined up on the Ukrainian border, ready for hours with out being impatient.

 Chris Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D.

Vehicles ready patiently for miles to cross the border between Ukraine and Poland. View from the Ukrainian aspect of the border.

Supply: Chris Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D.

8. Some present little or no willingness to settle in a secure Western nation:

When requested why they wouldn’t need to take this distinctive alternative to settle in Western Europe, most individuals say they don’t need to. Ukrainian refugees needed to return to Ukraine as a result of, “Ukraine was house, and so they wouldn’t need to dwell wherever else than house.”

9. The sensation of guilt:

A number of ladies informed us they felt responsible having left household and associates again in Ukraine. They have been torn between going again to Ukraine and being useful to household and associates and staying in a secure Western host nation for the sake and way forward for their youngsters.

10. The intense helpfulness of Ukrainian folks:

In the midst of excessive adversity, Ukrainian folks have been extremely good and useful. In Hrebenne, Poland, on the border with Ukraine, as a result of we couldn’t drive our rental automobile into Ukraine, Ukrainian and Polish folks went out of their option to discover a car that might take us to Ukraine. Lastly, a younger Ukrainian lady in an outdated, beat-up automobile took us throughout the border to Rava-Ruska, Ukraine.

In Ukraine, all people was good to us. Individuals we interviewed on the road mentioned they didn’t need to depart Ukraine. They confirmed that Ukraine was their house, and so they wouldn’t need to dwell wherever else.

As we went to the native financial institution to vary some cash, the financial institution teller provided to allow us to use their rest room. Curiously, they allow us to go to their relaxation space the place all of the financial institution tellers’ purses have been. They trusted us fully.

11. The intense helpfulness of aid organizations:

Reduction organizations have been additionally extraordinarily good and useful. In Paris, we interviewed two psychologists working for Medical doctors With out Borders and one logistician who had simply come again from a 2,600km journey, assessing medical wants in numerous components of Ukraine.

We additionally talked to volunteers in Brno working for Sant’egidio, an Italian Catholic aid group, and to volunteers on the Polish-Ukraine border working for the Mercy Middle Knights of Columbus, giving out books for kids, child meals, diapers, teddy bears, and distributing baggage of primary wants packed by Caritas, one other Italian aid group.

All of them informed us that one month in the past, between 2,000 and three,000 folks have been crossing the border day-after-day, however now, there have been lower than 50 per day.

12. The intense helpfulness of the native German, Polish and Czech folks:

German, Polish, and Czech folks have been doing every little thing they might for the refugees.

In Germany, we went to the little city of Marpingen, in Saarland, the place a German girl named Blandine was internet hosting 4-months-pregnant Ukrainian Olga and her 5-year-old son. There, all of us sat round the lounge desk; we met Blandine, her two daughters, Olga, and Olga’s son. Blandine recounts that when she heard lots of Ukrainian ladies wanted to search out houses, she volunteered to host a Ukrainian girl and her youngsters.

Quickly afterwards, Olga and her son got here. Blandine informed us that at first, Olga was withdrawn. She didn’t need to discuss and seemed via the window for hours. Blandine gave her time, and little by little, Olga began to speak extra. As a result of their language was so totally different, they used Google translate to speak with one another. Blandine remembers that, when Olga arrived, lots of German neighbors dropped by day-after-day, bringing meals and garments and asking what they might do to assist.

Now, Olga was beginning to open up and discuss. Blandine commented as we have been about to depart that she now had three daughters as a substitute of two, and her life was a lot richer because of this.

 Chris Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., used with permission

We interviewed Timur within the luxurious Bismarck Lodge in Unhealthy Ems. Timur was serving to the 30 Ukrainian refugees hosted on the resort.

Supply: Chris Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., used with permission

Just a little additional, in Unhealthy Ems, Germany, Arthur, the proprietor of the luxurious resort Bismarck, which as soon as belonged to a Russian Oligarch, opened his resort to 30 Ukrainian refugees. He now supplies room and board for them. Once we went to the Bismarck resort, we met Timur and his girlfriend, each from Kyiv, who have been on trip in Germany on February twenty fourth, the primary day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Timur, who spoke fluent English, informed us he was Arthur’s buddy and was there to assist the 30 Ukrainian refugees staying within the resort.

How this journey modified our personal view on life:

As we heard in regards to the worst, we additionally noticed the perfect in folks, with extremely touching solidarity between Germans, Poles, Czechs, and Ukrainians.

We now understand how fragile happiness is: Someday, we might be pleased with household and associates in peace, and the next day, we might be at struggle. Peace is rarely a given, and now again within the USA, we’re appreciating peace to its fullest.


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