Ekaterina, who asks not to reveal her last name, has not seen her family for three years. Just since this 24-year-old left Russia to live with her husband, a Polish immigration officer, in a town near the Ukrainian border, Boratyn. “First it was the pandemic and now it is war. I don’t think I’m going to see them for a long time », she comments sadly. But she does talk to them, and she is saddened when she sees the attitude of “a large part of the Russian population” towards the invasion. “People live in a climate of misinformation and fear. The government controls the press and television, where only what the Kremlin wants is reported. The media that dare to give a different vision end up closed and the citizens who question the official version or protest against the invasion, in the barracks or in jail », she says.
She, however, knows well what is happening in the Ukraine. Not only because her husband tells her, who is stationed at one of the border crossings through which thousands of people fleeing the invasion cross every day, but because she sees it firsthand: she has decided to help the refugees who arrive in Poland. «I mainly act as an interpreter, but I help with anything they ask me for. Many do not know that I am Russian, and, although I do not hide it, I prefer it because I would understand if they were suspicious of me. It is a challenge that they do not see me as the enemy », she explains. At the moment, it seems that she is succeeding, because women approach her in confidence.
“I can’t say I’m proud to be Russian, but I can’t stop Putin”
“I wanted to study at university, however now all plans have collapsed”
It is his way of redeeming himself for what Vladimir Putin does. “I can’t say that she makes me proud to be Russian. But I can’t stop Putin, I can’t change my country’s policy, so the only thing left for me is to do my bit,” she says, also concerned about the Russophobia that is spreading throughout the world, as happened with the Sinophobia at the beginning of the pandemic. “I hope it is understood that the people are not the government and that we Russians are also victims of Putin, who has impoverished us with this war,” adds Ekaterina, thinking about the consequences that the economic sanctions are having on her country. Like many others, she never thought that Putin would invade Ukraine.
“Something from the past”
Now he does not know how the conflict will end. «He believed that wars were something of the past, of those things that they teach you in textbooks. I never thought it was something that I would experience up close », she says sadly. When she is asked about the role NATO and the West in general should play, she falls silent and hesitates for a moment. «The heart asks to face it, also militarily. But I think it could make the situation worse, because he has less to lose than Europe.” However, she Ekaterina considers that doing nothing is not an option either. “I do not have answers. That is why I dedicate myself to doing what I can for those who cross the border », she concludes.
This is the case of Nadia, a 14-year-old Ukrainian teenager who, behind a perky smile, hides a drama. She lowers her head, embarrassed, and covers her mouth when she laughs, she shows a shyness that vanishes when she is asked about her odyssey to reach the Boratyn school in Poland. “My mother decided that we had to leave Krivoj Rog before the shelling started because she feared that we would not be able to escape the war then,” she says.
Together with her sister and one of her mother’s best friends, they headed for the border by train. “But then we had to walk for a few hours, and there was a very long queue at Immigration,” she recalls. Ukrainians who have a passport get one row, and those who don’t have a different one. “We had to separate, because my mother and her friend have a passport, but my sister and I don’t,” she says. Not surprisingly, it is the first time they left their country.
Nadia remembers that as one of the most tense moments, along with looking for a place to stay in Poland: “I was afraid to be alone in the crowd, but there were no problems. On the other side of the border, we took a bus to Warsaw hoping that someone would welcome us there, but we did not find anyone. It was then that a man told them about the refuge in Boratyn and they trusted him, despite the risk involved. “Of course we were worried, but we needed help,” he says. Precisely, that is the desperation exploited by the mafias that traffic in women and children.
Fortunately, the offer was well-intentioned and now the four of them hope that the fight will end soon so that they can return to their house, which is not destroyed, and reunite with their father. But Nadia makes a resigned face and says that, in her opinion, “the war will last a long time.” Because of that, she worries that this may affect her long-term future. “She was already thinking about what she wanted to study at university, however now all plans have collapsed,” she concludes. Nadia does not want to be a refugee or live in a different country.
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