The news about the war in Ukraine kept me very busy from day one. I quickly knew that I couldn’t sit by and watch, I had to do something.
I contacted our acquaintance Tanja Berezhnaya in Chernivtsi – a city in western Ukraine, the capital of Bukovina. Tanja has been running the organization “New Family” in Chernivtsi for many years and now, together with her team, takes care of the constantly growing number of refugees from eastern Ukraine. We visited their organization years ago and supported them with donations. She was also our contact person and interpreter when we visited the Jewish school in Chernivtsi.
Tanja wrote on March 1: It’s still quiet in Chernivtsi, but in the evening the alarm goes off and people flee to the cellars. There are a great many refugees and the number is growing every day, including several thousand children. Cars take up to 2 days (usually 1.5 hours) to the border of Romania and Moldova.
In my company and among my friends and acquaintances, I immediately started an appeal for donations. Since I only wanted to bring goods that were really needed, I asked Tanja to send a list. Most of these goods are currently only available to a limited extent in Ukraine: baby diapers, hygiene items (shower shampoo, etc.), sleeping bags, long-life foods (noodles, rice, oil), baby food, chocolate, canned goulash/soups, canned liver sausage, cocoa drinks.
Last week Friday we were able to go shopping with a considerable amount – we also bought almost 40 pieces of sleeping bags, these were a very big request from Chernivtsi. On Saturday morning I drove off with a colleague from work – 15 hours drive ahead of us – the first hours mainly on the motorway – in the very east of Hungary and then in Romania further on the main road. During the night we crossed the Carpathians in wintry conditions. A bit exhausted but well we arrived in Radauti – we wanted to spend the night there to meet Tanja the next morning at the Romanian-Ukrainian border Siret.
Unfortunately, their driver, who had special permission to cross the border, was ill. Otherwise, men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to cross the border. So we had to enter Ukraine to hand over and reload the relief supplies.
It’s cold, around -1 °C – we’re standing in a parking lot in Ukraine, just over the border near Siret. It is a parking lot of farewells: whole families come by car, the men drive back to the city alone. Their wives, mothers and sisters take the children, small dogs and large trolleys and line up in the bitter cold to march to Romania on foot.
A call from Tanja: They can’t refuel their car in town, so we should wait. We see the cars coming, people getting out, women crying and the military patrolling. A little later the relieved news that they were able to refuel and are on their way to us. Wearily, Tanja tells us that the alarm went off again last night and they had to flee into the basement – a military base not far from Chernivtsi is being bombed. Food in the city is already scarce, people are only allowed to buy two products per person a day.
The man who helps us unload is himself a refugee from Kyiv – he is grateful to be here for the donations and help. But he also tells us about the terrible, unimaginable – the war in his hometown.
With Tanja’s help, we quickly got back across the border – past the cars, past the women with children who were standing in line. On the other side of the border, the help is great, tents from various organizations take in the refugees, helpers carry the heavy suitcases or the tired children, food and drink are distributed, transport and accommodation are organized.
We immediately started our return journey to Vienna, with an empty bus but full of impressions – the journey was a bit quieter, we thought, thought of the many people who were torn from a normal life and now had to leave everything behind and flee.
We wish for a speedy end to this unjust war – until then we will carry on…. but even after that, the people of Ukraine will need the support of all of us.
(Tamara Huber-Huber, March, 2022)