Ukrainian refugees talk of bombs, half-empty cities, hunger

MEDICA, Poland – Yulia Bondareva spent 10 days in a basement when Russian planes flew over and bombed the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Arriving safely in Poland, Bondareva’s only wish now is to get out of the besieged city of Mariupol.

“They’ve been in the basement since February 24, they haven’t been out at all,” Bondareva said. “They are running out of food and water.”

Bondariyeva was able to talk to her sister on the phone recently. Fear of what will happen to him in the besieged and bombed-out city is going through the worst of the war.

“He doesn’t know how to leave town,” the 24-year-old said after arriving in the Polish border town of Medica.

Mariupol authorities say only 10% of the city’s 430,000 population were able to flee last week. Mariupol City Council has claimed that thousands of residents were deported to Russia against their will.

Bondariyeva said her sister had told her that “Russian troops were roaming around the city” in Mariupol and that people were not being allowed out.

“Civilians can’t leave,” he said. “They give them nothing.”

Fighting for a strategic port in the Azov Sea erupted on Monday. Russian and Ukrainian troops were fighting block by block for control of Mariupol, killing at least 2,300 people, some buried in mass graves.

Maria Fyodorova, a 77-year-old refugee from Mariupol who arrived in Medica on Monday, said 90% of the city had been destroyed. “There are no more buildings here (in Myruple),” he said.

For the Marina Gala, only bird songs could be heard after the sound of gunfire and death in Mariupol upon arrival in Poland. Gala went for a walk with her 13-year-old son, Daniel, in the park at Prozmisel. He hopes to reach Germany later.

“It’s finally getting better,” Gala said.

The United Nations says about 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24, the largest exodus of refugees to Europe since World War II.

Valentina Kechena arrived in Prague by train on Monday. He never imagined that at the age of 70 he would be forced to leave his home in Kryvyi Rih and see the southern Ukrainian city become almost deserted as people flee Russian invasion for safety.

The Crevy Rig is now “half empty,” Kechena said He will now be in Poland with friends, hoping to return to the country soon “This is a very difficult time for everyone.”

Joriana Maksimovich hails from the western city of Lviv, near the Polish border. Although the city saw less destruction than others, Maksimovich said his children were scared and cried every night when they had to go to the basement for protection.

“I told my kids we were going to visit friends,” said the 40-year-old. “They don’t really understand what’s going on, but in a few days they’ll ask me where their father is.”

Like most refugees, Maksimovich had to flee without her husband – men between the ages of 18 and 60 were barred from leaving the country and remained at war. “I don’t know how to explain it,” he said.

Once in Poland, refugees can apply for a local ID number that enables them to work and access health, social and other services. Irina Cherkas, 31, of the Poltava region, said she feared her children might be the target of a Russian attack.

“We have decided to leave Ukraine for the safety of our children,” he said. “When the war is over, we will return to the country immediately.”

Poland has taken most of the refugees from Ukraine, more than 2 million so far. On Sunday evening, Ukrainian artists joined their Polish hosts at a charity event that raised more than 80 380,000.

The star of the evening was a 7-year-old Ukrainian girl whose video from the movie “Frozen” singing in a Kyiv bomb shelter has gone viral and garnered international sympathy.

Dressed in a white, embroidered folk costume, Amelia Anisovich, who fled to Poland with her grandmother and brother, sang Ukrainian music in a clear, sweet voice as thousands of spectators turned on their cellphones in response.


Keaton reports from Pozmel, Poland.


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