George’s alarm went off at 6:30 am. He roused himself from his bed on the floor in the open kitchen area. The apartment was dark and quiet. He quickly gathered his few belongings and put them back in his backpack. He visited the bathroom and combed his hair. Breakfast and coffee were not on the agenda, and he was soon ready to leave.
George had been having a very different experience from us. After we had said goodbye on the call early that morning, he left our apartment with Olya to find some way to rendezvous with Anastasia and her son and get out of Kyiv. Because of the curfew still in effect, he didn’t know how they were going to get to the pick-up point and whether or not stairs might be involved, so George ditched the small suitcase he had packed for his evacuation and emptied almost everything out of his backpack. He has a congenital spinal condition that acts up anytime he lifts anything over 15 pounds, so he couldn’t take a heavy backpack or risk having to carry his rolling suitcase up or down stairs. As a result, he left home with nothing but the clothes on his back, his phone and laptop, his wallet and documents, and a few changes of socks and underwear.
Despite the gravity of the situation, the overall atmosphere in the van was celebratory. These cousins really loved spending time together, and given how far apart we lived, they only got to see each other a few times per year. The parents may have been worried, but the kids seemed convinced that it was a party!
Our initial plan was to go to Poland, since it was less than a 2-hour drive away. However, we talked with American friends who had headed for Poland the day before, and they were still waiting in line at the border after 24 hours! They said that a worker from the U.S. Embassy had told them they would have done better to go to a Hungarian border crossing. Since we had many connections in Hungary and very few in Poland, this information simplified the decision of where to go. We plotted a southern route to avoid Lviv and the danger of air strikes near that city and headed for the Carpathian Mountains.
Jon’s words provided relief from the torment of the night. I welcomed the chance for action and something to distract me from all my worries. How quickly could I gather our few belongings and dress the kids so we could leave the scene of my waking nightmare? It shouldn’t take long.