SIRET, Romania (AP) — Life and death choices leave little time for feelings. War refugees fleeing Russian munitions in Ukraine took only the essentials for their journey to safety: key documents, a beloved pet, often not even a change of clothes.
Lena Nesterova remembers the time her fate was sealed: February 24 at 5:34 am, the first explosions in the Ukrainian capital kyiv, marking the feared Russian invasion.
Driven by fear, he said, they took “only daughter, dog, all documents and left” kyiv with only the clothes on their backs.
“We left everything. We have no clothes, nothing,” Nesterova said, and she added. “And we don’t know what will be next.”
His daughter, Margo, 18, cradled the family’s toy chihuahua, lovingly dressed in a purple coat, in the safety of a refugee camp in the border town of Siret, Romania.
Ten days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 1.45 million people have fled the battered country, according to the UN-affiliated Organization for Migration in Geneva. The UN has predicted that the total number of refugees could rise to 4 million, to become the biggest crisis of this century.
Most have arrived in Poland and other countries neighboring the European Union, and the bloc grants people fleeing Ukraine temporary protection and residence permits. Some are beginning to reach more distant countries.
More than 100,000 have arrived in Slovakia, with many planning to continue to the neighboring Czech Republic, which has a sizeable Ukrainian community. Czech authorities are creating classes for thousands of children to learn in their native Ukrainian.
Hundreds arrive daily by train to the German capital, Berlin. Further afield, in Italy, 10,000 refugees have arrived, 40% of them children, and the Ministry of Education indicates plans to bring them into classrooms so they can integrate.
Iryna Bogavchuk wanted to be light for the journey to Romania from Chernivtsi, through the Carpathian Mountains in southern Ukraine, just 40 kilometers (30 miles), and what seems like a lifetime, away. In better times, her hometown teemed with young people, drawn to the university whose 19th-century architecture earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
“I took my daughter,” he said, stroking the sleeping girl on his lap. I hope we’re okay.
Instead of belongings, which would have weighed her down, Bogavchuk brought Polaroids, which she gropes in her wallet. Happier times: her daughter’s tenth birthday; a photo with her husband, whom she left behind because Ukrainian men of military age are prohibited from leaving the country. “I miss him,” she said, dissolving into tears.
Ludmilla Nadzemovska traveled to Hungary from the Ukrainian capital, kyiv. She planned ahead for the worst: buying travel crates for her four cats a month ago when US intelligence indicated Russia’s intention to invade. But the decision to leave was made in an instant: after hearing that Russian forces had murdered her neighbors.
“I want to go back,” she said, sitting in a camp in Tiszabecs, Hungary, just across the border. “But my priority is my family and pets.”
In nearby Moldova, a non-EU nation sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, hundreds of Roma families are being welcomed into a sports arena in the capital Chisinau.
Maria Cherepovskaia, 50, walked the first 15 kilometers from her home in the Donetsk enclave in the Russian-controlled east of the country. She received help from people, including transportation and food, to make the rest of the nearly 900-kilometre journey to Moldova.
“We will be here until the war is over. We don’t know where to go,” she said. “There they are bombing. Too much, too much, what can we do?
Bela Szandelszky in Tiszabecs, Hungary, Helena Alves in Chisinau, Moldova, Karel Janicek in Prague, and Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed.
Follow AP coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine