By Imane Rachidi
Korczowa, Poland, Mar 18 (EFE).- Grandmothers carry their lives in a suitcase with the essentials, they can barely walk across the border and their minds are with those who have stayed behind in Ukraine. The children hug their cuddly toy and look with wide-eyed astonishment at the border guards.
The two generations of war victims are accompanied by a member of a third – usually a woman, who plays the roles of daughter and mother, taking the helm for the rest of the family, filling out registration documents, carrying the heaviest suitcase and keeping an eye on their elderly parents while holding the small kids tightly by the hand.
At least 1 million children have already left Ukraine since the invasion began on February 24, according to Unicef, which on Tuesday estimated that each second a child becomes a refugee because of the war in Ukraine, a country from which three million people have already fled.
Joining them on this tragic exodus are the elderly, some with chronic illnesses and mobility problems, who survived the Cold War and some of whom even witnessed World War II, the last time Europe was the setting for such scenes.
Bogdan Potava is 14-years-old and has arrived in Poland with his 40-year-old mother and 78-year-old grandmother. His father, an employee of Ukraine’s national bank, will remain in Kyiv.
“I talk to him every day. He’s fine,” she assures him. His mother nods and his grandmother watches as her grandson recounts the family’s journey from the Ukrainian capital.
Nastia is 15 and has also arrived at the Korczowa border with her mother and 5-year-old sister. They lived in the city of Ternopil, in western Ukraine, where the situation “was very calm, no alarms were sounding”, but the fear that Russian troops might reach their city “made them very afraid”.
In addition to the most basic goods, locals have filled the reception centers with toys, stuffed animals and other items for children. Olga Zaharova, 36, tries out some of the donated items on her two young daughters, who run and play in one of the spaces reserved for families at the reception center in Rzeszow.
The little girls are unaware that their departure from Ukraine has been caused by a war, although they paint the flag of their homeland on the floor, in a gesture that Olga applauds when they show her the result.
“We came by car, it was three days by road. My husband brought us to the border and turned back to Kyiv. My mother and father are staying in Ukraine,” she explains. She is going to Kielce, in southern Poland, to stay with a friend.
There are those who make the journey alone, like Natalia, 65. She lived “in a small house” near Zaporizhia, on the banks of the Dnieper River and home to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, where she worked as a teacher, until the war forced her to pack a bag with the bare necessities and flee, leaving behind her only family, her 29-year-old son, who is fighting in the Ukrainian army. “He wants to fight for his children’s future,” she says.
“I have lost everything. At my age, I have to find a new job because I will have to do something, I have to support myself,” she adds.
Natalia recounts the horror that in recent weeks engulfed Zaporizhia, which has become the focus of the Russian offensive despite the ongoing negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv.
“Putin wants to die and take the rest of the world with him”, she concludes. Natalia will stay for the time being in Poland, hoping to be able to return soon to Ukraine, although she regrets that her house has already been destroyed by the bombings and that, in any case, she will have to start from scratch. EFE