Igor is on his way to Budapest. His nieces, and nephews will be waiting for him at the Hungarian border later today as they indefinitely leave their home in Ukraine and travel back with him to Germany. I introduced myself to Igor as he was sitting on the train, switching between a blank gaze out the dark window and watching the news for the latest updates on the war.
As we started to talk, I learned that Igor grew up in Crimea where he lived and worked until it was occupied by Russia back in 2014. Forced to leave, he moved his family to Kyiv – far from the troubles the Russians had brought to his beloved, beautiful home. With a small tourism Business still running in Crimea, he would go back and forth quite regularly to make sure all was well. It was on one of these trips just a few weeks ago, that he woke up with his world changed as the bombing began. Russia had invaded Ukraine.
Stuck in Crimea with a Ukrainian passport and no way to return home, he took the only option open to him by travelling to the Russian mainland, through South Ossetia, and into Georgia. Here he was welcomed with open arms, given food and wine, a place to stay and free onward travel through the country. His eyes teared up as he remembered the unexpected generosity of the Georgian people when he really needed it. From Georgia, he travelled to Istanbul and then up into Europe where he arrived at his brother’s house in Germany. Thankfully, his wife and 3 children were able to leave Kyiv, cross the border and reunite with him at his brother’s home. The house already has 16 young refugees filling it near to capacity, but Igor is headed to Hungary to bring back some more.
We talked about Ukraine and the strength of the Ukrainian people, the courage, determination, humour and unity that has come to the forefront during this time. As I mentioned how President Zelenskyy had impressed me and the whole world, he admitted that he didn’t vote for him, and thought he was a mistake to lead Ukraine. Now he thanks God daily that they have Volodymyr Zelenskyy as president. A president that has united Ukraine in the hardest circumstances and passed every test thrown at him over the past few weeks. He was proud that the Ukrainian President is the envy of the world and a man of conviction & character that people want to love and follow.
Tears ran down Igor’s face as he spoke of the Russian people. Good people. Friends. Brothers. He told me how many of them are against the war but can do nothing about it. I asked if there was a future where Russian and Ukrainian people will be close again and painfully he suggested that not even in 50 years will Ukraine trust Russia again as the divide between them is now too large to come back from. All the pain, the hurt, and betrayal will be hard to forget and harder still to forgive.
We got off the train together in Austria, and soon found other refugees from all over Ukraine who were on their own journeys to safety. Igor brought them together one by one, until our little group had swelled to almost 20 people. As I walked along as part of this impromptu family, I could see the tiredness in each person and I noticed how Igor took them all under his wing, Talking about home, where they are from, where they are going and giving a small little joke and smile. He made sure everyone was going the right way, getting on the correct train, and no one was left behind.
This is merely one little story from a train ride to Budapest. One story from Ukraine, a country with almost 45 million individual, unique, and valuable stories that will all weave together to tell the story of this unjust Russian Invasion and the strength and beauty that is Ukraine.