Somber departures from war-torn Ukraine

March 21, 2022


Passengers waiting to board trains at the railway station in Lviv, Ukraine, located near the Polish border


For hours upon hours, Ukrainian refugees speak to one another in Russian while fleeing their cities and towns, and often, their country.

Beside a CalCoastNews reporter, a woman, her mother and her daughter boarded a train departing the Ukrainian capital Kyiv for Lviv, the leading city in Western Ukraine near Poland. The female refugees said they were heading to Germany.

The two women and the girl waved an emotional goodbye to men in their family, who were standing outside the train car at Kyiv’s central railway station. The men would be staying behind, since Ukraine’s current war times measures ban 18 to 60-year-old men from leaving the country. 

“Very sad,” the woman said in English, upon waving goodbye.

Two friends of hers — a father and a child — had already been killed in the war, she said. The woman described their killing as similar to what had just occurred to an ambushed American journalist, whose death made headlines both inside and outside of Ukraine.

Inside a compartment aboard a train headed from Kyiv to Lviv

The woman spoke with her mother and daughter in Russian for a couple hours, sporadically joking and laughing, and then attempted to get some sleep. The woman and her daughter climbed onto the the two top bunks in the train compartment, which proved to be a bit of a challenge.

“Oh, I am a princess,” the woman said, switching to English, as she climbed onto the bunk bed.

With the window shade pulled down after sunset — so as not to give off light that could incidentally make the train a target for fighter jets — the three females went to bed. The train would arrive at the Lviv station shortly after 3 a.m. Even in the middle of the night, there was standing room only for most people inside the Lviv train station, a scene emblematic of the ongoing exodus from Ukraine.

The central hall of the Lviv railway station well before dawn

Later, on a train across the border in Poland, Ukrainian refugees conversed in Russian with one another for four hours before arriving at the destination, the Polish city of Krakow. Upon arrival, the refugees were addressed in Ukrainian over the train intercom.

“Slava Ukraini” (glory to Ukraine) was announced on the intercom. The passengers responded with the traditional reply, “Heroyam slava” (glory to the heroes).

“Putin khuylo” graffiti in Kyiv

One man added, “Putin khuylo,” a commonly used slur deriding Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Part of the aim of Putin’s interventions in Ukraine, be it lending support to separatists or full-scale invasion, is to protect the Russian speakers of the country. Yet, many of the very Russian speakers Putin declared he would protect are fleeing bombs, missile strikes, shelling, gunfire and an all-out assaults on their cities and towns. 

Critics of Putin’s actions argue his military campaign is causing millions of Russian-speaking Ukrainians to hate Russia. 

Kremlin supporters, on the other hand, say the invasion is justified, in part, because of the Ukrainian military’s attacks on Russian speakers in the Donbas region over the last eight years. Likewise, they claim Ukrainian Nazis or Neo-Nazis are abusing their fellow Ukrainians or even holding them hostage.

Justified or not, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is now in its fourth week. The death toll is in the thousands; various cities, particularly Mariupol, have become humanitarian disasters; and more and more shelling and air strikes are ravaging civilian-populated areas. 

“I would love to leave Ukraine for some time,” one Kyiv man said following intensified air strikes in the Ukrainian capital. “Bad thing is I cannot leave. I’m stuck.”

Apartment building in Kyiv following an air strike. Photo by Mykyta Demydiuk

As a few million or more Ukrainians have fled the country, many men have stayed behind to partake in the war effort in one capacity or another. Other Ukrainians, particularly in besieged Mariupol, have become stuck with no way out.

“The shelling isn’t stopping for a day,” Maksym Zhorin, a former commander of Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, said when asked by CalCoastNews about the situation in Mariupol. “The corpses of civilians that are laying down in the streets are not even being buried because we have no opportunity to approach, and in the best case, small mass graves are made just in the streets.”

Maksym Zhorin, former Azov Regiment commander

Mariupol, a largely Russian speaking city, is the geographical base for the Azov Regiment, a former paramilitary unit that is now part of the Ukrainian National Guard. The Azov Regiment has fought pro-Russian forces in Ukraine dating back to 2014. Conversely, the Russian government has deemed the Azov Regiment to be a hotbed for Nazism in Ukraine. The military unit has and/or previously had ties to far-right political ideology.

Whether or not Russia is battling Nazism, as claimed by Putin, its bombs, missiles, mortars and gunfire are wreaking havoc on Ukraine and the lives of Ukrainians. Millions of Ukrainians, a large percentage of whom are native Russian speakers, are fleeing this mayhem. Others, willfully or not, are not as lucky. 


Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

But so many of our freedoms here are being taken away. Just recently we were forced to wear a mask to help protect our fellow citizens. Can you believe it? What tyranny we live under. What’s next?

I’m willing to bet these pictures would not be possible if Trump were still in charge…

Nope, they would have been much worse. Don’t forget Trump’s reaction when Putin annexed Crimea was indifferently saying “I heard they’d prefer to be Russians anyway”, he also threatened to withhold military aid from Ukraine unless they found dirt on Biden, and refused to even ask Putin about the bounty he put on the heads of American soldiers. Putin waited to invade because he was hoping Trump would win a second term and fulfill on his promise to pull the US out of NATO. The fact that the US stayed in NATO and that the alliance is now stronger than ever will be Putin’s demise.

“Justified or not, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is now in its fourth week”.

How can one even imply ‘justification’ for this genocidal invasion?

I don’t think it takes a genius to sort out who the Nazis are in this scenario. We have our “alt-right” self-proclaimed neo-Nazis right here at home as well. Some few are, sadly, enrolled in our military That does not give, say, Canada a right to bomb our civilians indiscriminately and even intentionally, while demanding the territory. As far as Ukraine being “Russian territory”, Ukraine was a sophisticated country of its own long before Moscow was a village. Russia once held Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Northern Cali. Shall we just let them have those too, if they start arming Russian Americans, marching their armies in to occupy, bombing the resistance and rolling in the tanks?

Although few paid much attention, Putin declared in 2008 that the fall of the Soviet Union was the “greatest tragedy of the century” and his intention was to restore it. Apparently, some people think that he has a “right” (after calling resistors “Nazis”) to do this by murder, genocide and brutal suppression of all the unwilling. Take a look at how his military is being mismanaged and Russia’s fortune goes to sick sociopaths with massive fortunes while his people struggle, have only highly controlled, censored propaganda as “information” and a word against the war, of which most of them are unaware, carries a 15 year prison sentence. Ask yourself if that is how you would prefer Europe or even the world functioned?

For those of you who are not ardent history buffs, during the rise of the Soviet Union, when Russia invaded Ukraine to take it over, they were so brutal to the already war-torn Ukrainians, that some of them joined the Germans to fight them off. Some may still hold on to the trappings of that era, much the way that American Southerners still carry the rebel flag. It is not a good or patriotic thing for them to do, but not grounds for a massacre and take-over of Southern states.

If living under Putin does not appeal to you, be sure that it doesn’t appeal to the Ukrainians either. This does not take a genius. Nazi is as Nazi does.

This could be applied to many. Don’t limit to a certain group or organization in this nation. It goes to all parties. Please be honest.