Ukrainian schoolgirl Yeva’s diary from war’s front line captures horror of the refugee crisis

Refugee crises are huge, monolithic affairs, and on the identical time deeply intimate and private ones. Since the warfare in Ukraine began, I’ve travelled alongside the nation’s borders with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. I’ve witnessed first-hand the fastest-growing refugee emergency since World War II. There had been moments after I simply needed to cease, sit down on the bottom and take in the dimensions of what I used to be seeing.

n March 8, we had been standing on platform 5 on the practice station within the Hungarian city of Zahony. As we waited, one of many lengthy evacuation trains pulled into the station from Ukraine. The doorways opened and over a thousand Ukrainian refugees disembarked. They had been primarily ladies and youngsters; males of combating age needed to keep behind. They acquired off the practice in an orderly, calm approach. People waited patiently whereas the aged had been helped off first, some in wheelchairs.

Soon, the platform was full. When it was protected to take action, the crowds walked throughout the rails to the station constructing the place the Red Cross and others gave them meals and water.

Train stations have offered the backdrop for a lot of of Europe’s refugee emergencies, so the scene felt vaguely acquainted. I ended what I used to be doing, imagined all of it in black and white — a single picture, monochrome, straight out of a historical past e-book.

Then there have been the moments when the intimate and private got here roaring out at you from the pages in full color. On February 27, we had been reporting from a border crossing referred to as Vysne Nemecke on the Slovakian-Ukrainian border. The warfare was two days previous. We met an aged couple named Nina and Viktor, who had simply arrived. Their daughter-in-law, Anya, had come out with them and was dropping them off with volunteers who had been in flip driving them to prolonged household in Germany.

Anya hugged them each, defined their state of affairs to the volunteers, then turned away with tears in her eyes and walked again into Ukraine to affix her husband. The volunteers guided Viktor and Nina over to some seating close to the place the foods and drinks had been being distributed. Nina was holding on to Viktor’s elbow all through. Every so usually he would attempt to flip round and return into Ukraine. His spouse would gently information him again round in the appropriate path to security, away from warfare.

Viktor has dementia. His household informed us that each 20 minutes or so, he forgot why he and his spouse had been on this journey. Every 20 minutes, Nina would take his hand, whisper in his ear and remind him once more that the life they’d inbuilt Ukraine had been destroyed, that they had been refugees now.

A volunteer supplied Viktor a cup of tea from a tray. Viktor thought she was asking him to assist, so he tried to take the tray off her and provide the teas to different refugees. Nina intervened once more and defined to him why they had been right here: “No darling, the tea is for you.”

The UN’s refugee company (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) publishes the latest day by day recorded numbers of refugees leaving Ukraine on its on-line portal. We checked the numbers at round 4pm GMT day by day to incorporate in our reporting for the Channel 4 News bulletin at 7pm.

The drawback was that in that three-hour lag, the numbers elevated by hundreds, so our reporting was old-fashioned inside hours. By the time this text is revealed, for instance, the numbers of refugees leaving Ukraine will most likely have crossed the 4 million mark. Poland has taken over half of them. Nearly 20pc of Warsaw’s inhabitants is now made up of refugees.

Then take Moldova, one in all Europe’s poorest international locations, which has taken extra Ukrainian refugees per capita than wherever else. On March 10, we reported from the athletic enviornment within the centre of the Moldovan capital, Chisinau. It has been transformed right into a refugee shelter.

By and enormous, the primary wave of Ukrainian refugees had cash and household connections in neighbouring international locations, so they may transfer quick. The folks we met languishing within the athletic enviornment, many from the Roma group, had been poorer and had been bedding in for an extended time.

The second wave of refugees popping out of Ukraine now can be in a extra determined state of affairs than the primary. This will current a novel set of challenges to host international locations. In explicit, to locations reminiscent of Moldova, the place the establishments of state, training and healthcare are extra fragile.

That’s the macro perspective; now again to the micro. On March 4, myself, my producers Freddie Gower and Piotr Zakowiecki and cameraman Flavian Charuel had been filming at a college within the Ukrainian metropolis of Uzhhorod.

The metropolis, near the Slovakian border, has develop into a significant transit level for refugees on the way in which out. The college is now one in all a community of shelters, mattresses specified by the fitness center. As we filmed, a 12-year-old woman named Yeva and her grandmother Irina arrived in from Kharkiv and had been allotted two mattresses within the nook of the corridor. Yeva’s dad and mom had been separated, her grandmother has been taking care of her since beginning. Their condo in Kharkiv had been partially destroyed throughout shelling.

On February 23, the day earlier than the warfare began, Yeva began writing a diary. It’s a mixture of fairly intimate, private observations and sweeping, profound takes on how warfare impacts a complete folks. The first line of the journal reads: “Everyone thinks they know the meaning of the word ‘war.’ Yet hardly anyone knows what that word means for real. They say it’s terrible, it’s dreadful. But they don’t know. Not really.”

By the time we had met her, she had written 80 pages. She’s as much as practically 200 pages now. Her journal entries embrace getting the evacuation practice out of Uzhhorod to Hungary, then on to Budapest. As a results of our TV studies about her, dozens of individuals in Britain and Ireland reached out with presents of assist and lodging.

That’s within the diary as properly. She and her grandmother opted for Ireland ultimately as they deemed it a extra simple selection. They are presently staying with an incredible household in Glasnevin, Dublin. Yeva’s story has been lined extensively, and several other large literary brokers have been in contact, keen on serving to her publish her journal. Yeva’s working title: War 2022 — Through the Eyes of a Child.

I’ll always remember that night within the refugee centre in Uzhhorod after we first met her. We spent a number of hours along with her as she learn aloud sections of her diary late into the night time. The ladies and youngsters mendacity on the mattresses round us had been listening as she recounted the second when the bombs beginning falling: “I started having a panic attack. My hands were shaking. My teeth were chattering.”

You may hear a pin drop within the shelter that night time as this baby’s voice echoed across the corridor. Women and youngsters listening to their very own story, informed by one in all them, on their phrases.

Hardly anybody is aware of what warfare actually means. The folks in that room on that night time listening to Yeva’s Diary undoubtedly did.


Paraic O’Brien is a correspondent for Channel 4 News

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