Refugees from Ukraine tell harrowing stories, even as the numbers dwindle

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Leonid Katsiv, a 44-year-old Jew from Ukraine, has his shoelaces tied by one of his children at a center where the Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland provides accommodation and food for Jewish and non-Jewish refugees Otwock, Poland, Saturday , March 12, 2022. Many are Jews among the more than 2.5 million refugees leaving Ukraine. International Jewish organizations have mobilized to help, working with local Jewish communities in Poland, Romania, Moldova and elsewhere to organize food, shelter, medical care and other assistance. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

AP

Elena Yurchuk saw families with children blown up and the hospital where she worked reduced to rubble during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“I don’t know if I have a home or not,” said the 44-year-old nurse from the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv. “Our city is under siege and we barely escaped.”

Yurchuk has arrived safely in the Romanian border town of Suceava, which has taken in thousands of refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine over the past few days. Chernihiv, she said, now resembles a “ghost town.”

“People in cars are being blown up by mines, a car with children and a young family was being blown up … literally behind us,” Yarchuk said.

While the number of people arriving in neighboring countries from Ukraine appears to have eased over the past week, the refugees’ harrowing reports of destruction and death are testament to the ongoing suffering of civilians in Ukrainian cities besieged by Russian forces will.

At the train station in Przemysl, Poland, refugees described traveling on crowded trains and “people sleeping on top of each other” during their journey to safety. Explosions were heard by some as they drove through a western region of Ukraine near Lviv in the area where Russian missiles bombed a military training ground, killing at least 35 people.

“As I was walking through Lviv, there was an explosion. They bombed two military bases,” said Elizaveta Zmievskaya, 25, from Dnipro. “The sky turned red.”

More than 1.5 million refugees have arrived in Poland since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 — out of a total of around 2.7 million people who have fled so far, according to the UN.

However, Polish Border Guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said the number of refugees arriving had eased over the past week, with about 79,800 on Saturday compared to 142,000 the week before. 29,636 refugees arrived in Romania on March 7, down from 16,676 on Saturday.

Still, the refugees said their flight to safety was as difficult as ever.

Roman Titov Chuguyev, 16, traveled with his brother on a crowded train for more than 10 hours before meeting their mother, who was already in Poland.

“We had to travel alone,” he said. “It was very crowded, many people slept on each other. In the cabin for six people there were eight to ten people in it. It was just very difficult.”

His mother Svetlana Titova said she was relieved her two sons had finally arrived.

“I had no connection with them,” she said. “I was concerned, but I was here with others who were waiting.”

For Natalia, a 55-year-old Ukrainian refugee from Zaporizhizhia, this was her second escape after leaving the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 when Russia annexed it.

“It was scary,” she said. “We didn’t wait for them (the Russians) and this isn’t our first experience. But it was scary.”

Most of the refugees fleeing Ukraine have been women and children, as men between the ages of 18 and 60 have stayed behind to fight and are forbidden from leaving the country. Many have already moved to other European countries, mostly to stay with friends and family.

At dawn on Sunday, a bus carrying about 50 Ukrainian refugees overturned on a major highway in northern Italy, killing one person, Italian firefighters said.

In Britain, the government announced it would pay a financial reward to people who offer their homes as shelters for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion. Officials said Sunday the Homes for Ukraine scheme, due to launch this week, will see sponsors receive a government payment of £350 ($456) a month.

But refugees like Svitlana Prihodnia, a 55-year-old from Dnipro, only wish they didn’t have to leave.

“Everyone dreams of going back home soon,” she said.

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Renata Brito contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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