By: Nancy RommelmannPublished: March 12, 2022

Dispatch from Ukraine: Exit/No Exit

Yesterday morning before dawn H. loaded six people she had never met into her car and drove us to the Ukrainian-Polish border. Yulia and her children were leaving for Portugal to join family, while her husband stays in Ukraine to fight. You are looking at all they took with them.

And now I am sitting on the floor at an Air France gate at Warsaw Chopin airport. Unlike JFK at 4:30am, many stores on the concourse are open, and if I’d wanted to buy a $300 bottle of Chanel perfume just now, I could have.

Which is one of the cognitive dissonances I think many of us who have traveled these past few weeks to Ukraine are wrapping our heads around. I watched this video this morning.

This is the region from which Alla and Nataliya, whom I met with two days ago in Lviv, had escaped from. Alla carried with her a child-size knapsack; Nataliya, not even that. Alla’s mother’s home had been bombed - her mother is all right, but the boy walking his dog outside of the home was killed.

“It looks like Stalingrad, you know Stalingrad?” she asked. We — Oksana, with whom I stayed in Lviv, and her daughter Diana - were able to bring clothes and other goods to Alla and Nataliya and other refugees staying in a grade school turned turned refugee center. There were people on pallets, and a wall IDing Russian saboteurs, and one tall strong smiling Ukrainian volunteer who sang “La Marseillaise” in anticipation of a Ukrainian victory.

Alla, Nataliya, Oksana, everyone I have met in Ukraine are hopeful that in two more weeks, maybe three, everything will go back to normal, that Putin will be stopped and the refugees can go home. But I don’t know, the incursions are so terrible, the fighting waged with brutality by a madman; I spent one of the best night of my life this week speaking with Oksana’s father Volodymyr, the mayor of five villages just outside of Lviv, about Russian history and what he sees as Putin’s current bunker mentality, but that unlike Hitler, Putin will not, in Volodymyr’s estimation, kill himself, nor will he care if what he winds up ruling over in Ukraine is ruble. You can read more about Oksana and her family in “Dispatch from Ukraine: the Hutnyks of Lviv.”

Lviv is at the moment fairly safe. Yes, there are roadblocks, manned by citizens whose new career is in essence doing anything and everything to save their country. I was in a bar with Michael Moynihan last night in Warsaw. We talked about the amazing and instant resolve of the Ukrainian people, how they until recently lived collectively and have the muscle memory to snap-to and get-done. “Can you imagine them trying to do this in Brooklyn?” Michael asked.

And here again the cognitive dissonance, of sitting at Nobu bar drinking tequila-soda while just over the border people are getting blown up, are at risk of losing their country, are telling me, “I cannot imagine living under Russian government and they dictate to us what we do. That's impossible. It's better to die probably than just live like that.”

A little more about what I’ve seen this week can be found at the following:

I decided last night, after my very easy crossing back into Poland, that I am staying on this story, that I am (as they say) standing with the people of Ukraine and will keep coming back and keep writing. I will very appreciative of any information you want to send me, as so many of you already have.

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