War in Ukraine

War in Ukraine

An experience report from the Ukrainian border.

― by Tim / 10. March 2022

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Actually, we wanted to tell you here about our new house in Boșcana, and show you pictures of our work. We will, but for the current occasion there is a short blogpost about the war in Ukraine and how we experience it in the neighboring country Moldova.

A day on the Ukrainian border

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, OM Moldova, many local churches and countless volunteers are helping people on the border. To give you some idea, I’ll tell you how I experienced last Saturday (March 5).

The pictures were taken on different days in connection with the work at the Moldavian/Ukrainian border and show exemplarily how our everyday life looks like.

The images may not be reused without written consent.

05:30

The alarm clock rings, take a shower, pack everything into the car and drive off. Temperatures are in the low single digits.

07:00

Gathering at the OM Training Center in Chişinău. Today we are a big team: 11 helpers, some from OM or churches in the capital.

07:30

Shopping: Blankets, water, 30kg of potatoes and other ingredients, two heaters for the big tent, baby and children’s food.

08:30

Departure to Palanca, on the way we unload the ingredients in a local church. They will cook it and later bring it to the border warm.

11:00

Arrival at the border, the queue is still quite short: 5 kilometers by car (24 to 48h waiting time) and only about 50 meters for pedestrians. The weather is bitterly cold and windy, as usual. We coordinate with the night shift and bring the first part of the shopping into the tent.

We have a few donated carrying aids from Switzerland with us, which we distribute to mothers who have to carry their small children in their arms.

A refugee approaches me and asks where he can help. I bring him to our team in the tent.

12:00

We distribute a few extra pallets in the tent so that we have more space and don’t stand around in the mud. Four people are constantly working at the “bar”, serving tea and coffee. I am sometimes here, sometimes help there, collect garbage, bring tea and coffee to the cars, carry supplies from the van to the tent….

13:00

The first hot food arrives and we distribute it in the tent. Another NGO has brought a shopping cart and uses it to drive down the motorcade. Clever foxes! We still carry our food around in boxes.

14:00

Short break to eat something yourself. Taking a breather, chatting with the other helpers and listening to their exciting stories. After 15 minutes, we move on.

15:00

I don’t have much to do right now, so I help prepare the cups with sugar for the tea and instant coffee. In between, play a little with children or pray for people. The mood is calm, tense. When you’re not distracted, you see fathers carrying their children, their gaze lost in the distance. They will have to say goodbye to their families at the border. Ukraine does not allow men fit for military service to leave the country.

The pedestrian queue is now about 200 meters long, but it is moving much faster than in the first days. Why we do not know exactly, it seems customs works faster and fewer people arrive.

17:00

We prepare for dinner and turn on the lights. Half of the lights do not work. First figure out what the problem is: a cable reel has melted (kids, please unroll those things completely). Since we do not have a replacement, we adjust the electrical installation. Now it is light and the microwaves are ready.

19:00

The food arrives, we don’t need the microwaves. Instead, we distribute hot soups in the tent. Afterwards, I help the team with the motorcade and collect trash. The sun is long gone. When I’m not running around, I realize how cold it really is. I have sweatpants on under my work pants and four (!) layers of the best thermals from the military on top. Many refugees wear their normal winter clothes, some children their ski suits.

20:00

After the meal we permanently distribute tea and coffee to the waiting people outside in the queues. UNHCR brings blankets. There are still many children in line, we bring them fruits and squeeze juices to lift their spirits. Everyone is tired, the little ones are incredibly brave.

22:00

The pedestrian queue has almost dissolved. This has never been the case so early. Usually it went on until well after midnight. I sit down with the refugee who has been helping us all day.

He showed me photos of his two sons. On the first: skiing vacations in the Carpathians. On the next: filling sandbags together on the beach in Odessa. I assure him he will get his life back. His response, “No, I won’t.”

At 27, he had founded an architectural firm. Now, five years later, he doesn’t even know where his employees are. All projects are stopped, the investments are probably lost. What was left in the store’s coffers was spent on ammunition and distributed to the soldiers.

We talk for a long time about social housing and exciting psychological topics. Keep drifting from the past to the future. And to the present. He has been awake for 34 hours now and is struggling to find the English words, but the distraction is doing him good.

24:00

Shortly before midnight our team has finished cleaning up everything and I say goodbye with a prayer, a warm hug and moist eyes. Most of our team is now making their way home.

“My” van is just driving down the column of vehicles with warm placintas. I follow the van with two employees of our NGO on foot about 2km into Ukraine. It is pitch black and surreal. It starts to snow, but fortunately the wind has died down.

02:00

All of our food is distributed and our shift is over.

04:30

We arrive at the training center in Chişinău. In my freezing cold car, I think about the people who spend the night in their cars right now at these temperatures and wonder how much gas it takes to run the engine and heater for a night. I turn on loud rock music, eat four power bars, and drive off.

05:30

Hello, my beloved bed.

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How are we doing?

Actually good. Moldova is currently not directly affected by the war and we continue to distribute food here in Boșcana. (That’s why I didn’t go to the border more often). The refugee issue is always present, but everyday life goes on in parallel.

The children basically know that there is war and that we help refugees.
They already know this from our mission in Lesvos.

What they don’t know is how close it is. From our place of residence it is 10 minutes to Transnistria. It is quite possible that this semi-autonomous region of Moldova will turn to Russia should the whole of Ukraine be annexed. For this reason, for example, we packed our car “for camping”: with sleeping bags and food supplies. Now they are looking forward to our first trip and the first thing they want to do is to go to Odessa to the sea.

This tension between the harsh reality, the impressions and stories we hear – and the reasonably ideal world at home is a real challenge for us parents. There are days when we feel sad or get angry. We also realize that we are actually in full on culture shock (but more on that in a later blog post). But most days it goes quite well, and we learn to deal with the situation.

What’s next?

We continue and are happy to be here. Both the refugees and the Moldovans need help. On International Women’s Day we distributed flowers to the senior women in the village. Today someone told us it was 5 degrees in his hut because the gas stopped working (or he has no money, I didn’t quite understand). Imagine if you had to live in your refrigerator.

This is also the reason why we held a collection campaign for winter clothes in February. We had originally expected ten to fifteen bags, but about three to four vans were full and we therefore had to stop the collection campaign early. We have already given a part to HMK in Thun, which drove the clothes to Ukraine a few days ago. The rest will be brought to us in Moldova by truck in the coming weeks.

Many thanks to all who are working for the people of Ukraine. And to all those who collected, washed, sorted and transported for our action.
Tim

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