12 New Surprising Insights From Our Trip to a War Zone

12 Shocking Insights From Our Journey to a Battle 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 awesome imprint on our life.

We flew from Los Angeles to Paris, France, and went to the Docs 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 automotive in Paris and drove throughout Germany and Poland to finish up in Rava-Ruska, Ukraine. On the way in which again to Paris, we drove throughout the Czech Republic. The journey was crammed with adventures, unpredictable occasions, and stunning interviews with reduction group volunteers and Ukrainians.

Listed below 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 offended on the Russians; they had been most frequently simply unhappy. Many stated that Ukraine is a peaceable nation, and all Ukrainians need is to dwell, work, and be pleased with their household.

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 I simply need my outdated life again.”

2. A variety of Ukrainians had 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 imagine that Russia would actually bodily assault Ukraine.

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

“No one believed the Russians would invade,” stated Natalia (who additionally lived in Kyiv earlier than the conflict). “No one 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 stated they’d really feel safer in war-zone Ukraine slightly 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 received 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 had been. She stated she would really feel safer in Ukraine, the place her household and associates had been, slightly than staying in a secure host nation, the place she had no household or associates.

In Poland, Daria stated she feels helpless and misplaced as a result of she can’t 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 had been in Ukraine, she could possibly be together with her husband and her dad and mom and would do every little thing she may to assist her family and friends.

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

A younger Ukrainian lady informed us that her automotive, from which she flew a Ukrainian flag, received egged one evening in a German city with a big Russian group. One other younger lady stated a bus driver received offended together 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 imagine there may be conflict in Ukraine:

Ukrainian Dmitri, whom we met in Pilsen, Czechia, had a daily job in the course of 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 imagine that there’s any hazard in Ukraine. They assume it’s all anti-Russian propaganda. Different individuals we talked to confirmed that that they had household in Russia that didn’t imagine there was conflict in Ukraine. These individuals selected to imagine Russian information.

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

In Zamosc, Poland, Ukrainian refugees declined to speak to us as a result of they had been scared that in the event that they went again to Ukraine underneath Russian occupation, the Russians would have a look at their cell telephones and probably 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 individuals:

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

Certainly, we noticed that with our personal eyes, once we had 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.

Vans ready patiently for miles to cross the border between Ukraine and Poland. View from the Ukrainian facet 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 wish to take this distinctive alternative to settle in Western Europe, most individuals say they don’t wish to. Ukrainian refugees wished to return to Ukraine as a result of, “Ukraine was house, they usually wouldn’t wish to dwell anyplace else than house.”

9. The sensation of guilt:

A number of girls informed us they felt responsible having left household and associates again in Ukraine. They had 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 kids.

10. The intense helpfulness of Ukrainian individuals:

In the course of excessive adversity, Ukrainian individuals had been extremely good and useful. In Hrebenne, Poland, on the border with Ukraine, as a result of we couldn’t drive our rental automotive into Ukraine, Ukrainian and Polish individuals 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 automotive took us throughout the border to Rava-Ruska, Ukraine.

In Ukraine, all people was good to us. Folks we interviewed on the road stated they didn’t wish to go away Ukraine. They confirmed that Ukraine was their house, they usually wouldn’t wish to dwell anyplace else.

As we went to the native financial institution to alter some cash, the financial institution teller supplied 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 had been. They trusted us utterly.

11. The intense helpfulness of reduction organizations:

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

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

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

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

German, Polish, and Czech individuals had 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 lady named Blandine was internet hosting 4-months-pregnant Ukrainian Olha and her 5-year-old son. There, all of us sat round the lounge desk; we met Blandine, her two daughters, Olha, and Olha’s son. Blandine recounts that when she heard a whole lot of Ukrainian girls wanted to search out houses, she volunteered to host a Ukrainian lady and her kids.

Quickly afterwards, Olha and her son got here. Blandine informed us that initially, Olha was withdrawn. She didn’t wish to discuss and regarded by the window for hours. Blandine gave her time, and little by little, Olha began to speak extra. As a result of their language was so completely different, they used Google translate to speak with one another. Blandine recollects that, when Olha arrived, a whole lot of German neighbors dropped by every single day, bringing meals and garments and asking what they might do to assist.

Now, Olha was beginning to open up and discuss. Blandine commented as we had been about to depart that she now had three daughters as an alternative of two, and her life was a lot richer in consequence.

 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 gives room and board for them. Once we went to the Bismarck resort, we met Timur and his girlfriend, each from Kyiv, who had 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 individuals, with extremely touching solidarity between Germans, Poles, Czechs, and Ukrainians.

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


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