Ukraine refugees push westward, feeling both relief and sorrow

Irina Kopil, the mother of two children, pulled into the train station in Lviv Tuesday morning, fleeing missile strikes in the city of Vinnytsia.

“You feel everything – anger, panic, fear, sadness,” says Ms. copy. In a murmur, she shares that her husband, a member of Ukraine’s territorial defense force, stayed behind. “We don’t know when we will see each other again.”

Why We Wrote This

In Lviv, the last major city before the Polish border, a crush of Ukrainian refugees is relieved to be safe but anguished about all they’ve left behind as they rush toward the unknown.

ms. Kopil and her children belong to the ever-rising tide of Ukrainians fleeing the country as Russia’s invasion enters its second week. More than 800,000 refugees have escaped as the Russian military escalates its attacks on cities across Ukraine.

The majority of those displaced by the war find safety in Poland. In Lviv, the last large city before the border, the train station has seen a crush of refugees, whose relief at eluding harm collides with sorrow over leaving home as they journey toward uncertainty.

Ivan Slotylo and Renata Kukul, a Lviv couple, arrived at the station to distribute food to fellow Ukrainians. mr. Slotylo explains that while the war has largely spared the country’s west, residents here feel solidarity with those forced to flee.

“Putin didn’t just attack some of us. He attacked all of us,” Mr. Slotylo says. “Our country needs us.”

Lviv, Ukraine

Mother held son in her arms as missiles and rockets thundered down on Kharkiv and the entire world sounded as if it might end. In an underground subway station in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Valeriya Portnianka and young Matvey huddled with hundreds of other residents, wondering if they would ever again walk up into the light.

One day blurred into the next, then another. On the fourth day, 94 hours after descending into the gloom, Ms. Portnianka gathered her son and their lone suitcase. They boarded a train from Kharkiv on Ukraine’s border with Russia to the capital of Kyiv, and from there continued west to Lviv. Some 22 hours later, forced to abandon home, work, and the order of life, she clasped Matvey’s hand as they waited to board a bus Tuesday bound for Poland.

“It was …” She pauses to wipe away tears, her face wan beneath the hood of a blue wool coat. “It was nothing you can describe. It was a feeling of dying while you are alive.”

Why We Wrote This

In Lviv, the last major city before the Polish border, a crush of Ukrainian refugees is relieved to be safe but anguished about all they’ve left behind as they rush toward the unknown.

ms. Portnianka and her son belong to the ever-rising tide of Ukrainians fleeing the country as Russia’s invasion enters its second week. More than 800,000 refugees have escaped to Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, and Romania as the Russian military escalates its attacks on cities across the eastern two-thirds of Ukraine. Defense officials in Kyiv reported Wednesday that more than 2,000 civilians have died.

Valeriya Portnianka and her son, Matvey, prepare to board a bus bound for Poland from Lviv in western Ukraine, March 1, 2022. They arrived earlier in the day by train after escaping Kharkiv, where they spent 94 hours in an underground subway station as Russian forces shelled the city.

The majority of those displaced by the war find safety in Poland, where officials estimate that 50,000 Ukrainians arrive daily. In Lviv, the last large city before the border, the train station has seen a crush of refugees, whose relief at eluding harm collides with sorrow over leaving home as they journey toward uncertainty.

Irina Kopil, the mother of two children, pulled into the station Tuesday morning from Vinnytsia. The city of 375,000 people, southwest of Kyiv and home to the headquarters of the Ukrainian air force, has absorbed missile strikes as air-raid sirens blare day and night.

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