Liza’s Story—Part I: The long journey to safety
Written by: Sharmishta Rawat, edited by: Clary Estes
“When something terrible happens you need nothing because the most important thing is your life.”
Crisis situations have a habit of bringing with them a sense of clarity. The endless distractions that make up our daily lives are thrust away and what truly matters comes to the fore.
Before the war had officially started, Liza’s father had told her to start preparing for the worst-case scenario. He told her to prepare a bug-out bag, as Liza learned it was called later, filled with documents, clothes, and travel necessities. Yet for Liza, what took precedence over any material possessions was the safety of herself and her family. As long as they all lived through this crisis, she thought, they could rebuild their lives someday.
Thus, while still reeling from the shock of the invasion, plans to leave were finalized quickly.
Initially, there was the dilemma of where to go. Was it safe to stay in Ukraine? If so, where in Ukraine was secure? If not, what country would be best to flee to? Reports of Russian troop advancement were as yet unclear and people did not know which roads were safe. For a short time, Liza’s family considered moving to west Ukraine where they had relatives. However, finally, they decided that leave the country altogether with the wife and child of a family friend who asked if they would like to go abroad with his family. He explained that he was sending his family to live in safety with his relatives, but his child was very young and his wife would need help with the baby and their luggage. And so, Liza and her mother decided to go with them to the Czech Republic, while Liza’s father stayed behind to take care of his elderly mother.
Accordingly, on the cold Saturday evening, after the invasion began, her family set out to the railway station to take the evacuation train out of the country. Leaving her home, Liza was numb. But she knew that this was only temporary. As time passed, she knew she would have to deal with the barrage of emotions that would inevitably come. After all, she was leaving behind her loved ones and her home without a clear idea of when she would see either again.
The railway station was a sight to behold. Never in her life had Liza witnessed so many people at the train station before. Everyone was trying to get any information they could about the evacuation train, all hoping to carve their, or their loved ones’, path to safety.
Among the chaos at the train station, Liza found her best friend along with her mother. Liza and her friend had not arranged to leave together. With the urgent need to evacuate, there had not been much time to plan anything. So finding two dearly familiar faces was a source of great comfort and “one of the happiest moments of that time.”
It felt like a small miracle in and of itself that Liza and her small group all managed to get onto the train together when it finally arrived. The train was jam packed. Her father and his friend had to push them into it. Not only were the seats on the train completely filled, ten people to every four seats in fact, but there was hardly any space in the corridors either. Liza saw a friend trying to rest while lying on the floor of the train. There were others sitting on their bags. They had a long journey ahead of them, almost a day to Lviv, and many passengers had no choice but to stand for the entire trip.
Liza and her friend were lucky and were able to find a place to rest during their long journey, a journey made even longer because the train had to change its route multiple times in response to the rapidly developing military situation. Being on a train did not lessen the danger. The fear that the train stations would be bombed was ever-present.
They finally arrived in Lviv late the next day and could finally take some stock of their situation. Leaving the country was an immediate concern and they could either take the bus or the train out of Lviv. But they found that the Lviv train station was even more crowded than in Dnipro. Lviv was the primary way station for Ukrainians fleeing the war. It quickly became clear that taking a train abroad was out of the question. They would take the bus instead, but not that night. That night, a kind family friend opened his home to Liza’s group. It was the first time since her arduous journey began that she felt truly at ease.
The next day, finding a bus urned out to be another challenge. Unsurprisingly, the buses were all fully booked. Liza, her group, her father, and father’s friend in Dnipro, all searched frantically online or called numbers to find available seats on any bus going out of Ukraine. They were finally able to board a bus out of the country, but the normally one-hour journey to the Polish border took them about nine.
When they did eventually reach the Polish border, Liza was amazed by the kindness and generosity shown to them by complete strangers. They were offered emergency supplies and other necessities. “There were a variety of resources like food, hot tea, some clothes, and different things for babies. It was incredibly impressive,” Liza recalls.
After that, they boarded another bus to go on to Prague, with the only stops made for people wanting to get off in one city or another. After a day, they finally reached their destination.
But as taxing as their journey out of Ukraine had been, they now faced a different challenge: rebuilding their lives…
Coming next—Part II: Rebuilding