Escaping the bombs

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Since the beginning of the war, more than two million people have fled Ukraine. Over 200,000 have so far sought shelter in neighbouring Romania. In Siret, on the border between Ukraine and Romania, helping hands are now prepared for the tragedy of the Ukrainians who have fled.

Mohsen Janbozorgi left his car kilometres from Siret and crossed the border between Ukraine and Romania on foot. “The traffic jam was too long, we were running out of petrol, and we couldn’t wait any longer in these temperatures,” says the 56-year-old. Mohsen Janbozorgi fled Kiev with his wife, two children (9 and 16) and his son’s 18-year-old girlfriend when the bombs were already hitting. “When the rockets fell next to our house, I knew: now we have to leave.” The carpenter had come to Ukraine from Iran 30 years ago in search of work. He fell in love, started a family and called the country home until recently. Now he is in Romania, but he does not want to stay here. He keeps asking where he can find the bus to Germany.

People willing to help
On that day, 9 March, when Mohsen Janozorgi crossed the border into Romania, a total of 30,000 Ukrainians entered the neighbouring country. Most of the refugees arrive in Siret in the north of Romania on foot or by car. They receive a warm welcome, with signs in Cyrillic script, hot food – and many helping hands. Dozens of international organisations, medical staff and translators are ready to help. Tent after tent is lined up on the Romanian side of the border, between snow-covered grass and glowing warm mushrooms. An icy wind blows, the thermometer shows minus degrees. The arrivals are calmly received by volunteers and firefighters and the first thing they are asked is what they need. At the beginning, the situation here right at the border was not so well organised, says Simon O’Connor from the organisation O Noua Viata Foundation in Siret. “In the beginning, everyone practically threw themselves at the arrivals, completely overwhelming them. As the days went by, the necessary calm and structure came.” Along with Moldova, Romania is the poorest country in Europe. However, the willingness of the population to help is huge: people share what little they have. People from the villages cook warm meals for the refugees and bring them to the emergency centres. Nappies, clothes, blankets, mattresses are donated.

"When the rockets fell next to our house, I knew: now we have to leave."

Mohsen Janbozorgi

The tension only falls at night
Few tears flow at the border. The tension of the Ukrainians who have fled does not disappear when they arrive in Siret. “We hear them crying at night,” says Radu Huzum from Caritas Romania. “When they can finally lie down and close their eyes – and realise what they have just been through.” The 45-year-old has set up an arrival centre for refugees in a rectory in Siret. 20, 30 mattresses with blankets and pillows, hot food, free internet. “With us they can rest, they are looked after – and they can think about how to continue. Because most of them don’t stay here.”

“Italy”, “Germany”, “Poland”: dozens of buses from different European countries are ready to take the refugees away from Romania. Valeria Kupovets has been waiting for the bus to Italy for four days. “My mother is in Milan. I just want to be with her now. In 24 hours I can hold her again.” The 27-year-old left the megacity of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine after hiding in a bunker for seven days. She stands in Siret with nothing but her passport and the clothes she is wearing. On 9 March, the day she waited for the bus, 25,000 Ukrainians left Romania.

A young Ukrainian woman with her child at the Siret border crossing with Romania. Picture: Fairpicture/Andrei Pungovschi

International and local organisations as well as fire brigades, social services and civilians offer support to the arrivals in Siret. Picture: Fairpicture/Andrei Pungovschi

Romania shows solidarity with Ukrainian refugees. Picture: Fairpicture/Andrei Pungovschi

Many animals from Ukraine also cross the border into Romania. Picture: Fairpicture/Andrei Pungovschi

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