Ryazan, Russia, Jul 14 (EFE).- Vita, who prefers to give only her first name, arrived in the historic Russian city of Ryazan from Kharkiv, a predominantly Russian-speaking region in northeast Ukraine that has seen heavy fighting since the war began.
“The noise of the missiles flying over the house woke us up” in the early hours of February 24, when Russian forces stormed Ukraine, she tells Efe.
Vita is one of several hundred Ukrainian refugees being housed in centers in Ryazan, having been forced from their land by Moscow’s military campaign.
While the numbers are hard to ascertain, the 400 refugees spread across four centers in the city southeast of Moscow are among roughly 2.5 million Ukrainians who now find themselves in Russia following the invasion, according to the Russian government.
The United Nations estimates that figure at just under 1.5 million Ukrainians, although it acknowledged that accurate data was hard to pinpoint.
Some of the Ukrainians who crossed the border into Russia did so willingly, but Ukraine and the United States have also accused Moscow of forcibly deporting hundreds of thousands of citizens, a claim Moscow rejects.
In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, Vita fled with her four children, husband and parents, who were rehoused by her husband’s company.
When the Russians arrived in Kharkiv, schools and kindergartens were shuttered, food became scarce and civilians were left without water and electricity.
Vita says Russian soldiers shared their rations with them, when no food was available.
“The Ukrainians declared us traitors, because we didn’t throw ourselves under the Russian tanks, because we let them pass in the direction of the city of Kharkiv,” which is 70 kilometers west of their home, Tania, Vita’s mother, tells Efe.
Most refugees in Russia live in refugee centers, and government aid packages of 10,000 rubles ($163) and medical, psychological and legal help do not meet their needs.
Maria, a volunteer group leader, tells Efe that she thought of leaving Russia as soon as the war broke out, but she was drawn to an advert online about a refugee center and joined the initiative.
She coordinates 15 volunteers who gather goods and deliver them to the Ryazan centers, but she says this is just “a drop in the ocean.”
Vladimir, a 69-year-old pensioner, was in the port city of Mariupol when the Russian military campaign began.
“On March 12, a projectile fell in front of the house. The window panes blew out. We ran out and, in just fractions of a second, another fell, ripping the wall up and destroying two rooms,” he tells Efe.
He managed to scramble essentials into two bags and took shelter in a basement.
“We had a bad feeling. After one of the bombings I came out of the basement and instead of the house I found a mound of broken bricks and rubble. Everything was destroyed,” he says.
Vladimir had no plans to escape to Russia, he simply fled wherever he could — the key was to get out alive, he adds.
“I have nothing left there,” he adds, before saying he won’t be returning to Ukraine.
Alexandr, 52, managed to survive the Mariupol siege, despite the challenges his heart disease posed. His son-in-law would fetch water for him from a nearby well.