ANDIt’s always a hasty flight. The cars go to the limit of occupants and a few personal items. After all, there is little that can be saved when you feel like you have to leave your house with no time to waste. Our photojournalist Álvaro Ybarra Zavala travels on foot more than 20 kilometers of an endless caravan of vehicles, between the Ukrainian city of Tarashany and Siret, on the other side of the Romanian border, the first goal of an exodus whose final destination is still unknown to many.
Those who flee wear fear on their faces. They organize themselves to eat and drink, share what they have, while the line of cars towards Romania advances at a desperately slow pace. They’ve been on the road for days. Kiev, for example, was eight hours away before the Russian invasion, now the Romanian border is two days away. That is why many, their nerves shattered, their patience overwhelmed, abandon their cars and follow the route on foot, trying to speed up their departure from the country. Without knowing where they will go and without knowing, above all, if they will ever return.
Before the invasion, Kiev was eight hours from the Romanian border; now two days. That is why many abandon their cars and try to speed up their departure from the country by walking without knowing where they will go.
The scene recalls the exodus from Paris in May 1940, when eight million people packed thes highways and byways, mounted in vehicles or on foot, fleeing in slow motion from the Germans. Ukrainian Irène Némirovsky described like nobody else the anguish of that historical flight in the wonderful French Suite: “There was no crying or screaming: even the children remained silent. Everything was quiet. Every once in a while, a face would peek out of a window and peer intently at the sky. A weak and deaf noise, made of labored breaths, sighs, words exchanged in low voices, as if they feared they would reach the ears of an enemy on the prowl, rose from that crowd. It wasn’t anxiety, properly speaking, but a strange sadness that had little of a human quality, because it contained neither courage nor hope. This is how animals wait for death. This is how the fish caught in the net sees the fisherman’s shadow pass over and over again.
Solidarity in times of war
The local population living along the border has turned to the refugees fleeing Ukraine. Several local parishes and the community councils of the towns in the region have organized themselves to distribute food, blankets and basic necessities among the population blocked in the queues.
Anna flees on foot with her husband, Agustín, and with her daughter in her arms. They have abandoned their car dumped in Tarashany, 20 kilometers from the border to try to get to Romania as soon as possible. They believe that walking will be faster. They are afraid. They abandoned their whole life in Kiev and now they only think about saving themselves. Agustín is Mexican and hopes to have no problems when crossing, since no man with Ukrainian nationality can leave the country at this time.
Zina is one of the many volunteers helping people fleeing the country. Since the beginning of the crisis, she gathered what little she had at home and brought it to the humanitarian posts set up spontaneously on the roadsides. Zina assures that “everything you see comes from the solidarity of the people in the area who pay for it with their savings and bring it from home. Here we do not have any kind of official help from anyone. We share what little we have because it’s the right thing to do.”
In Siret, already in Romania, young people from India who were studying in the Ukraine warm up with a broth after having managed to cross the border. They left at full speed a few days ago from Kharkov, the country’s second largest city, bombed these days by the Russians. They feel lucky. In Ukraine there are still thousands of young people from their country blocked by the war.
In Siret, the local population has also turned to the refugees. Hundreds of help points with food, blankets, legal assistance… serve those who manage to cross. The faces gradually relax and leave behind the tension experienced. Faced with the violence on the Ukrainian side, from which people who crowd at the border crossing are let out by the dropper, the refugees in Romania appreciate the tsunami of international solidarity as soon as it arrives.
Alex accompanied his family to the border. Once there, he decided to stay in the area with his friend Elias Lukian to help those fleeing the country through this border post. He is clear that later he will join the territorial self-defense battalions to fight against the Russian troops.
Irina flees with her whole family from Kharkov. The situation was untenable. They were very afraid because the Russian artillery kept hitting the area around her house. “We all go out together. My husband, my son with his wife and my grandchildren. We are all going to try to cross the border, but I fear that my son will not be left and will be forced to stay to fight. I am distressed.”
Olga Cluyva’s son watches from the window of his car, which has been converted into a kind of traveling home for three days. Olga runs away with her two children. Her husband was caught by the start of the war on a work trip abroad. Now, his goal is to reach Romania. From there she will try to cross Hungary and Slovakia, on the way to Poland, where her husband and several of her relatives are waiting for her.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.