Putin, look what you have done: a report from the border

1 Березня 2022 без коментарів

Report by Slovak journalist Andrej Bán, published with the consent of the author. Original article DennikN.

Photo by Andrei Ban


Women and children in Europe

Uzhhorod, Friday evening. At the border is a huge, several kilometers long column of cars. Two streams a few hundred meters from the checkpoint merge into one.

The first car, a woman behind the wheel and a child. Another car, two women, apparently a mother and daughter. The third car, a woman and two children, one of them very little. The fourth, a girl behind the wheel, is probably a student.

Where are the men?

I see the first men in the long queue to enter Slovakia from Uzhhorod. There are a few, a maximum of 10. In most cases, they say that they accompany women to a safe place: “to Europe”. Then the men will return. Because they have to.

General mobilization is taking place in Ukraine, and men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave the territory of Ukraine. Only in case if they have the citizenship of one of the EU countries or at least permanent residence documents. However, the rules are changing and are currently quite unclear.

“We are fleeing the war from Chernihiv, a city about three hundred kilometers from Kyiv. The Russians started bombing us. We have been on the road for two days, we have been waiting here since the morning – eight o’clock,” says a Ukrainian with a little daughter in her arms. They have nothing, not even bags.

I have never seen anything like this during the wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan or Syria.

The gentleman’s wife (I will keep his name anonymous, as well as the names of others) is German. She was able to leave Ukraine at the last minute, while she still had a chance. Husband and daughter – did not have any.

“I don’t know where my wife is, probably in Germany. We have no connection”, the man added. Both he and his daughter have only a Ukrainian passport, as well as a “certificate” for permanent residence in Germany. He does not know whether they will be released from the country.

Also, there is a family from Kyiv in the car queue. It took them 12 hours to cover 7 kilometers and get out of the metropolis.

Others – from Kremechug, Poltava region. They stood in the crust for 24 hours. They walked around the blown bridges. They were able to leave before the shelling of the local airport by the Russians. They do not want to ask asylum in Slovakia or elsewhere “in Europe”. They want only one thing: to survive the war safely and return back.

In the queue we also meet a Slovak of respectable age from Michalovce. He nods at me, saying we know each other from my investigative journalism. I don’t remember, but I don’t mind. “I was at my son’s wedding here, not far away, in Svalyava, I’m coming back,” he adds.

Not just words, we need military assistance

We are going further into Ukraine. At the gas station I meet a young family from Luhansk. A car full of bags, including a cradle with a three-month-old baby. The woman is crying. They don’t know where to go, they don’t know what’s next.

“We have decided in which direction our country should move eight years ago. We must see the support of the EU, the support of the West”, said the young father. “We no longer want just statements, we need results. Not only ammunition and money, we also need military assistance. ”

“Putin, look what you did!” – exclaims his wife.

Frenzied scenes continue in the student dormitory of Uzhgorod. Children with teddy bears, with a cats and dogs. As they were, as they had – so they fled.

There is no vacancy in a hotel or guest house throughout Transcarpathia. Refugees are housed in a student dormitory in Uzhhorod. While it’s still possible, I also used one of the free rooms. I talked to desperate refugees and convinced them that good people would help them in Slovakia.

One young mother is crying. She left with her daughter so quickly that her husband did not have time to sign all the necessary documents for border crosing. The woman does not know if it is needed now. We call the Slovak consulate. There, the employee assures her that they should not have problems crossing the border. If they arise, he offers his help.

“We have the first 27 refugees; we expect them to arrive en masse. More of them will arrive by morning train from the east. We are ready for the arrival of 2,000 people,” said Vasyl Pinzenyk, a City Hall employee.


A frightened gray-haired man is sitting on a chair in the town hall. He has just arrived from Odessa.

Shelter and overnight on the tatami

Ancient Mukachevo is located about 40 kilometers from Uzhgorod. Between the wars, the city belonged to Czechoslovakia, Podkarpackie region. Now it is Transcarpathian Ukraine. Locals hope that the Russians will not invade here. They will have to cross four regions and the Carpathian Mountains.

With a local friend, Michael, in Mukachevo, I visit a gym and a martial arts center. However, instead of boxers and MMA wrestlers, they prepare tatami mats, sports mats, as sleeping places for people from other parts of Ukraine. It is currently the only refugee shelter in a city of 40,000.

The small unfinished hall can accommodate 62 beds. On the floor, under the blankets. Heating only with electric heaters.

Volunteers who are constantly in touch are looking for housing or other assistance for refugees in the surrounding area. Logistics, transport, food. In the first two hours alone, 42 willing locals offered their services and accommodation. Bloggers and social media activists help spread information about accommodation and transportation options.

This civic activity is obviously run by a well-trained and physically fit man in his thirties. Vasyl Chehrynskyi fought as a volunteer from 2015 to 2020 in the southern part of Donbass, in the battalion near Urzuf. When I tell him that I was with his comrades-in-arms in the shelled village of Shirokino, that I was accompanied there by a guy with the call sign Korin`, he is surprised. He knows him.

“After my return from Donbass, a pandemic began. The countrymen entrusted me to head the crisis headquarters. Now the Russians have attacked us, I am waiting for a call to my unit to the East. I have things packed in my car; I’ll take my friends. We are ready to leave right now”, Vasyl said.

He boldly and decisively adds that Putin is the aggressor. That’s why they will win.

Please help us

The drama also takes place at the pedestrian crossing between the Ukrainian Maly Selmentsy and the Slovak Velki Selmentsy, about twenty kilometers south of Uzhhorod.

Similar stories are everywhere.

Michael and I are attracted by a young Ukrainian family with a child in a pram. They fled on the first train from Kyiv. They speak English. The father and daughter have Estonian passports, and the woman has a permanent residence in Denmark. They are crying that Ukrainian border guards do not want to release them – they say they need diplomatic passports. Indeed?

“Please help us,” they say.

Mykhailo and I go to the fence, behind which stands an armed man. He obviously does not know the details of the rules and regulations. We will convince him that the family does not need diplomatic passports, and they have enough of ordinary ones. “Thanks!” – The last words of the family before entering Slovakia. In turn, first grumble, then calm down.

During a break at the gas station, Michael shows me a video on his smartphone. At one point, a lone man somewhere near Kherson, where fierce fighting is taking place, is trying to stop a column of Russian military equipment with his own body.

In the second – footage from Grozny. Chechens, who serve to Kadyrov, are being recruited in large numbers to support Russia.

In another video, a brave Ukrainian woman comes to Russian soldiers and offers them sunflower seeds. They don’t understand, they shake their heads.

“Put them in your pocket. When you are killed here, sunflowers will grow on your graves”, she says.

Andrej Bán