Among Ukraine’s refugees, a Gibraltarian man and his family
By Priya Gulraj and Reuters
A Gibraltarian man and his young family were among tens of thousands of people, mostly women and children, attempting to flee Ukraine as Russian forces continued to launch attacks across the country on Friday.
Darren Victor and his wife, together with their daughter, 5, and four-year old son, spent 48 hours in a freezing bunker in Kyiv as the Russian invasion commenced and they waited for a train to take them to another city.
While many others have crossed into Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, Mr Victor and his family hope ultimately to reach safety in Gibraltar.
“We just managed to get on a train, physically pushing to get my sick children in because we had spent two nights in a bunker, which was dirty, humid, dusty and cold,” Mr Victor told the Chronicle over Facebook Messenger.
“We are still trying to get out of Kyiv.”
The family is trying to make it out of the capital to go to Lviv, a city which is some 70 kilometres from the border with Poland.
The Victors hope to make it into Poland, and then to make their way to Gibraltar.
In a heartfelt plea on Facebook, Mr Victor reached out to the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, for help hours after Russian President, Vladimir Putin, launched an invasion on Thursday morning.
After speaking to Gibraltar Government officials, Mr Victor was disappointed to learn that the UK Government is not helping to evacuate British nationals stranded in the war.
Mr Victor made Ukraine his home some 20 years ago, moving there to teach English.
His brother also lives in another region in Kyiv and is also struggling to get out and get to safety.
“Nowhere is safe here,” Mr Victor said.
The Ukrainian Government said 137 civilians and military personnel were killed on the first day of the Russian invasion, which hit multiple cities and bases with air strikes or shelling, with Russian troops attacking by land and sea.
As women and children flee the country, men between 18 and 60 are being ordered to stay and fight.
Mr Victor told the Chronicle this requirement is not applicable to him as he is not a Ukrainian national.
Mr Victor’s family is just one of many who are trying to flee to safety.
U.N. aid agencies said Russia's invasion could drive up to 5 million people to flee abroad.
At least 100,000 people are uprooted in Ukraine after fleeing their homes, while thousands have already crossed into neighbouring countries including Moldova, Romania and Poland, U.N. refugee agency spokesperson Shabia Mantoo told a U.N. briefing in Geneva
Iryna, 36, and her mother set out from Kyiv on Thursday with her two girls aged 2 and 4, before crossing into Ubla in Slovakia.
"We left my husband there, so he is still there supporting our government," she said on Friday at a hotel in the border town of Snina.
"We pray for Ukraine and I hope everything will be fine," she said.
In Poland, which has the region's largest Ukrainian community of about 1 million people, authorities said wait times to cross the border ranged from 6-12 hours in some places.
At Medyka in the south of Poland, some 85 km (52 miles) from Lviv in western Ukraine, roads were packed with cars, police directing traffic, and people hugging loved ones after they arrived on the Polish side. An internet map site showed a third of the way congested with heavy traffic.
Ukrainian rules restrict men aged 18-60, who could be conscripted, from crossing the border.
Marta Buach, 30, from Lviv, said her husband was not allowed to cross with her.
"In Lviv it is OK but in other cities it is really a catastrophe. Kyiv was shelled, other small cities were shelled, we were hearing bombing everywhere,” she said.
"I think it is only a matter of time for it to be as dangerous as other cities."
United Nations aid agencies say the war could drive up to five million people to flee abroad. They said fuel, cash and medical supplies were running low in parts of Ukraine.
Border authorities said 29,000 people had entered Poland from Ukraine on Thursday, and about half had indicated they were fleeing the war. In Romania, more than 10,000 Ukrainians had arrived on Thursday, and nearly 3,000 in Slovakia.
Poland's deputy interior minister Paweł Szefernaker said Ukrainian bus drivers were unable to drive across the border as conscription-age men were being held back in Ukraine.
Michał Mielniczuk, a spokesman for the southern Polish region of Podkarpackie said temporary accommodation was being offered to people arriving.
"The vast majority continue on to other places throughout Poland after receiving a warm meal," he told the PAP news agency.
BLOOD DONATIONS, MEALS
On the border with northern Romania, women were crying as they bid goodbye to male loved ones, setting off to cross into Sighetu Marmatiei, a remote town on the banks of the Tisa river, a Reuters witness said.
Long queues had formed as cars waited to board a ferry over the Danube river into Isaccea, a town between Moldova and the Black Sea, local media in Romania showed.
Slovak authorities urged people to donate blood and set up hospitals with 5,380 beds assigned for the army or NATO use.
Across central Europe, on NATO's eastern flank, volunteers were putting up messages on social media to organise housing and transport for people arriving from the borders.
Activists were setting up food and hot drink distribution points and vets were offering to take care of pets.
Authorities in Poland and Romania lifted pandemic quarantine rules for those arriving from outside the European Union and, from Friday, Ukrainians could get COVID-19 vaccinations in Poland.
Hungary said it will open a humanitarian corridor for citizens from third-party countries like Iran or India fleeing Ukraine, letting them in without visas and taking them to the nearest airport at Debrecen. At its border crossings, Ukrainian cars lined up for three to five km.
Bulgaria started issuing passports to its citizens in Kyiv who needed travel documents and had sent four buses to the Ukrainian capital to evacuate people.
Three buses, evacuating some 130 Bulgarians will leave Odessa on Friday, the foreign ministry spokesman said. Some 250,000 ethnic Bulgarians live in Ukraine.