ISACCEA (Romania) – Olena explains how she fled her Ukrainian home to escape the growing conflict. “My husband told me to leave to protect our boy.”
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Olena and Yaroslav, 8 years old, are two of thousands of people who just crossed the Danube River by crowded ferry to reach Isaccea. While everyone fleeing conflict feels relieved to be safe, many are still uncertain about what the future holds.
Olena states, “I don’t know where to go or if I’ll ever see my husband again.” Every woman and child that I meet echoes this tragic, desperate story. As these families describe their lives being turned upside-down by the conflict, there is a palpable sense of shock.
Iryna, who arrived on a later boat, says that she told her daughters it was a vacation for several more weeks. She said she was trying to control the anxiety her daughters, Masha (8-years-old) and Dasha (5-years-old), have been feeling about what’s happening.
These scenes contrast sharply with what anyone standing on the dock would see just a few weeks ago. In those days, the ferry was used to transport families on holidays, businesspeople for meetings, and people visiting family or friends. People today make the trip to save their lives and their families.
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Iryna states, “I left for the sake of my children.” “I wouldn’t have gone if it weren’t for my children,” she says. She shows us a bright school bag filled with books that the family has packed. Other than that, they were limited to food, medicine, and a few clothes.
Iryna left behind her family, home, and business, but she couldn’t resist the growing violence. “We didn’t sleep at all, I don’t remember sleeping. Iryna screams as she tries to recall the horrors of recent times.
“In Odessa I had a shop that sold beautiful clothing, but now it’s hard to imagine what’s happening.” She claims her husband, who is a sailor was away at the time of the conflict. Iryna is unable to look back on the life she created for her family. It was a life she couldn’t choose but to give up for her safety.
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It takes nine hours to drive north to the town Sighetu Marmtiei. This is past the tranquil and snow-covered Carpathian Mountains. Women and their children arrive by the hundreds. While some arrive in cars, most people are bringing suitcases and backpacks that can be quickly packed.
Although there is no water here, the stories are very similar.
Maria and Ksenyna, her 3-year-old daughter sit in a Blue Dot space. Blue Dots are a joint initiative of WE, UNHCR, local authorities, and partners. They provide information and guidance to people arriving in the area, as well as family reunification services, and a space for children to play and rest.
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Maria states, “I have one reason why I’m here.” Ksenya is focusing on Krosh, her soft toy. The icy air is pierced by the sounds and cries from children.