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‘We even feel a bit guilty we are okay’: Ukrainians grapple with pain of leaving homeland

Gestures of generosity abound everywhere. At a refugee camp in Siret, Romania, volunteers and emergency workers paused to hold a birthday party for a seven-year-old girl from Ukraine, complete with cake, balloons and song.

The UN children’s agency said a half-million children in Ukraine had to flee their homes in the first week of Russia’s invasion, though it didn’t say how many left the country.

In the small village of Uszka in Hungary, pastor Edgar Kovacs opened the only room of his church to refugees. It was quickly filled with 29 members of a Roma family from Didova, Ukraine. “I have a big family, so when we heard on the news what happened next door, our hearts began beating faster. And my whole family and I tried to help,” the pastor said.

Some Ukrainians brought with them little but grief.

“My colleague was shot by Russian soldiers when she tried to go out of Kyiv to Zhytomyr. And she was shot, she is dead now, unfortunately,” said Vladislav Stoyka, a doctor from Kyiv who had been in Slovakia for vacation when he woke up the day of Russia’s invasion to find himself a refugee.

Now he seeks to move on to Germany or the Czech Republic, part of a growing wave westward.

“Many people are also going to Bratislava, to Prague, to Germany,” said Mihail Aleksa, a Slovak volunteer with the Red Cross. “Very important thing is that if they have passports, you know, they can get nearly everywhere in Europe now for free.”

But many are finding new homes far from Europe. After a 23-hour flight, more than 80 people, including many Ukrainian family members, arrived in Mexico City early Friday.

“It’s a sense of security, of relief, but at the same time, we have mixed feelings, and we even feel a bit guilty that we are okay when we know that our relatives are in a bunker right now,” said one evacuee, Alba Becerra. “My son’s father is in a cellar, my daughter-in-law’s parents are also in a bunker, all in Ukraine.”

Some who left Ukraine are opting to return home. At the Medyka border post with Poland, 65-year-old Katarzyna Gordyczuk boarded a bus preparing to cross back again. She had come with her grandchildren but was returning to be with the rest of her family.

“I left my farm, my husband, my children who are still in Ukraine,” she said. “I am worried. I am worried.”

Her bus home was nearly empty.

With material from Channel News Asia Read More

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