After a year and a half of ongoing conflict in Ukraine, a lot has happened. More than 8 million people have left Ukraine, and that number is still growing. This raises the question: How did they leave their country, who was there to assist them, and how are these people fleeing at this very moment?
When the war started on the 24th of February in 2022, many Ukrainian citizens tried to flee their country. This ‘special military operation,’ as the Russians called it, came as a sudden shock, throwing the country into chaos. As a result, many people were unable to escape as easily as they had hoped.
Remco Heus, a Dutch citizen, was employed at a company in the Netherlands that expressed deep concern for the situation in Ukraine. Driven by this compassion, the company’s owner proposed the idea of organizing a rescue mission at the Poland-Ukraine border to offer assistance and support to refugees with connections to the company. Remco was one of the volunteers and shared his experience.
Without knowing what would happen, Remco and his colleague prepared for the worst. They bought water, food, blankets, and even toys for the children, and arranged for a van for the journey. “When you’re on a 16-hour trip to a place where you have no idea what’s happening, you start thinking about the worst-case scenario” – Remco. They began strategizing for the situation, like attaching a piece of orange clothing to a selfie stick so that refugees could recognize them amid the chaos. Remarkably, Remco and his colleague were actually among the first to head to the border to pick up refugees. This made it even more challenging, as no one knew what to expect.
However, when they arrived at the border, it was nothing like they had expected. There was no chaos; it appeared calm, and even the children were playing together. The people were happy to see us, and we even honked at them to let them know we had arrived. Apparently, the Polish people had everything very well under control. People had food, water, and even places to relax for a bit. Remco and his colleague were invited inside the shelter and were greeted with lunch and some drinks after their long journey. Nothing they could have ever guessed!
After a quick stop, Remco and his colleague, along with the Ukrainian refugees, resumed their journey back to the Netherlands. Remco finds the experience unforgettable and still deeply emotional today. “The most challenging part was seeing children in the backseat, knowing this shouldn’t be happening to them. And, of course, driving for 30 hours straight.” Back in the Netherlands, the refugees were provided accommodation by Remco’s employer. They later returned to Ukraine when it was safe to do so.
Unfortunately, it is still not safe to travel back to every part of Ukraine. To this day, many people continue to flee the country due to the ongoing war. Fortunately, after a year and a half, it has become somewhat easier and less chaotic to leave the country. The European Commission has established a website where Ukrainian refugees can find precise instructions for traveling through the EU. On this platform, you can learn that many countries provide free travel options for refugees from Ukraine, along with comprehensive information for every EU member state. Thanks to the strong collaboration within the EU, initiatives like Remco’s are now less necessary. Nowadays, there are more and better options available, making it easier for Ukrainian refugees to leave their country.