Refugees in eastern Ukraine

Despite battles being waged in some cities, parts of Ukraine still untouched by war

Ynet correspondent to war-torn country joins a refugee convoy heading to Hungarian and Romanian borders to escape the war, and finds in some areas in the east of the country life continues as normal

Ron Ben Yishai |
Published: 03.10.22, 23:47
The broken-down roads between the villages of eastern Ukraine were full of potholes and often covered in deep snow.
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  • We drove in a convoy of cars full of refugees from the west and north-west of the country, mostly from Kyiv.
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    אנשים עובזים את מחוז לוהנסק במזרח אוקראינה
    אנשים עובזים את מחוז לוהנסק במזרח אוקראינה
    Refugees in eastern Ukraine
    (Photo: AP)
    Those who had cars chose to escape to neighboring Poland, Romania, Hungary Slovakia and Moldova.
    Leaving the capital, traffic was slow because of the many cars and the roadblocks set up to inspect those leaving the city. But as we headed south, there were less cars on the road, and we were able to increase our pace.
    Our rout crosses the number 40 highway leading west from Kyiv to Zhytomyr and on to Lviv, with access to Poland Hungary or Romania.
    But these days the area of Zhytomyr is under constant bombardment
    The Russians are targeting the highway so that NATO members would not be able to use it to transport weaponry from Poland to the Ukraine forces.
    Another reason to bomb Zhytomyr is that it is on the path, that they intend to use for their extremely long military convoy, which is still stuck between northern Kyiv and the border with Belarus. A convoy that is now slowly beginning to move and is intended to surround the capital from the west. For that same reason, travel by the short rout to Lviv and Poland is no longer possible.
    The new route, passes through small villages and fertile black ground, spanning all the way to the horizon.
    Some of the fields are covered in snow, in others, wheat crops can be seen above the now.
    Ukraine, even in times of war, is still a massive supplier of wheat, eggs and vegetables. There are tractors in the fields and in the villages, businesses are open proceeding as usual. The long lines of cars carrying refugees and the frequent and often fortified roadblocks are the only sign of war.
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    A woman walks down the street in a village in east Ukraine
    A woman walks down the street in a village in east Ukraine
    A woman walks down the street in a village in east Ukraine
    (Photo: AFP)
    In the big cities, such as Khmelnytskyi, the sight of pogroms in the 19th century, life is undisturbed, and the war is no where to be found.
    There are long lines outside the few working gas stations. Some of the refugees out of Kyiv, Kharkiv and elsewhere are out of gas and in desperate need of the services in the small village stores east of the Dnieper.
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    תורים בחנת דלק במזרח אוקראינה
    תורים בחנת דלק במזרח אוקראינה
    Cars line up outside gas stations in eastern Ukraine
    (Photo: AP)
    Volunteers stand in small stalls along the road offering the refugees a warm potato soup and some local garlic bread. They are kind.
    I asked one of them, Yoreh, if he thought the war would reach the east. He smiled and told me to eat my soup quickly because there will be none when the Russians come and everyone here will run to run to Romania and Hungary.
    "Do you disrespect these people?" I asked Yoreh, who had just completed his degree in law and economics in a university in Irpin, a city partially occupied by Russian troops. He himself fled the fighting and returned home to his village.
    "No," he said, "but I think there are many young men among them who should have stayed to fight. Perhaps they were just bringing their families to the border and would return to join the Ukrainian forces," he said adding that they would not be able to cross the border anyway if they were between 18 and 60 years old.
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    Couple bids farewell as the young man remains in Ukraine to fight against the Russian invasion
    Couple bids farewell as the young man remains in Ukraine to fight against the Russian invasion
    Couple bids farewell as the young man remains in Ukraine to fight against the Russian invasion
    (Photo: Getty Images )
    "Do you really believe the Russians will come here?" I asked and he just looked at me and said, "I don't know. Putin is capable of anything."
    As we return to the road, we understand that there are now two Ukraines. One west of the Dnieper and on the Black Sea coast, which is fighting an invading army and the other, to the east of the river, where life continues undisturbed.
    For those concerned about a shortage of wheat, I can tell that the fields are plentiful, and their green color is already evident, through the snow.
    Eastern Ukraine, thus far not in Putin's battle plans, provides a strong economic backing to the fighting west.
    "Glory to Ukraine," Yoreh says to me as we part. We headed towards the border with Romania. As darkness fell, I could see why the Russians were bombing Zhytomyr. A convoy of huge trailers carrying what appeared to be heavy military equipment headed westward, followed by artillery batteries and armored personnel carriers.
    Weaponry and equipment are being delivered but it will be a while before its effects are felt on the battle field.
    Ukraine is facing a war of attrition, likely to last for a long while.



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