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War is a lot of things.

It is death and destruction, senseless suffering and unspeakable horror. 

And it is also a lone woman in socks and slippers walking past an abandoned enemy tank. It is about life in proximity to war, quiet resolve and the capacity of human resilience.

The 750-mile trip began in Chișinău, Moldova and for three three days I traveled by bus with the aid organization Team Humanity to Chernihiv, Ukraine, a city 100 miles north of the capital city Kyiv and just 55 miles from the Russian border. 

We departed in the still dark early morning with four charter buses and two sprinter vans full of medical equipment, an assortment of medication, diapers for both babies and adults, sleeping bags and non-perishable food items. The objective of their mission: deliver critical supplies to Odesa, Kyiv and Chernihiv and to then evacuate as many people as possible from Chernihiv and the southern port city of Mykolayiv.

The journey took us through more than 100 military checkpoints and roadway blockades; en route we slept at a military hospital in Kyiv, navigated destroyed roadways and a blown-up bridge, and had police escorts for travel that occurred past a 9PM curfew.

The convoy arrived in Chernihiv, just two days after the city was liberated from a month of Russian occupation; we found a city more than 70% heavily damaged or destroyed and a populations just beginning to assess the human and material loss. Crushed and burned vehicles littered the landscape, still active landmines laid on and along the roads, piles of wood and rubble were where buildings once stood and much of the city center was a scene of devastation.

Below is a glimpse into this journey and excerpts from the stories shared with me. 

“We lived on the third floor but are leaving now. What can we do? There is nothing left.”

Russian forces targeted private residences, apartment complexes and a hospital during a five-week siege on Chernihiv, Ukraine. More than half of the city’s 300,000 residents fled; the rest spent more than a month in basements, bomb shelters and bunkers.
Anti-tank mines lined roadways thought the city of Chernihiv; anti-personnel mines, those intended for use against humans, are smaller and were seen in fields and amidst rubble. 

Throughout Ukraine Russian troops have left behind an array of landmines as soldiers retreated from cities including Chernihiv, Bucha, Kharkiv and Kyiv. The tedious process of landmine removal has just begun; lost or missed mines can remain active for years—or even decades—posing a hazard long after a conflict ends.
While in Chernihiv Ukrainian tanks and military vehicles maneuvered through the streets. Though Russian troops retreated from the city tensions remained high as residents buried the dead and assessed damage and destruction.
We passed through more than 100 roadblocks constructed of dirt, sandbags, cinder blocks and metal barriers during the three-day trek. In a conflict zone these obstacles are intended to slow vehicle travel and to disrupt unauthorized movement; at checkpoints we were asked for passports, press accreditation and government documents.
At an emergency hospital in Chernihiv more than 150 patients went for weeks without food, water and electricity as Russian forces occupied the city. Several days after the city was liberated most patients were evacuated. Due to imminent surgery several children remained in the hospital basement turned underground bomb shelter.

The hospital windows were riddled with bullet holes and the building sustained heavy damage; it was one of several medical facilities targeted by Russian forces. 
“He does not yet know that his father is dead.”

Bagdan was with his father when a bomb exploded near their home. When we met him, the boy, age 13, had not yet been told that his father did not survive the explosion. 

The war in Ukraine, like so many atrocities before it, is one waged against those who’ve yet to see or experience what life might have otherwise offered them. 

As violence continues to escalate throughout Ukraine and as the world sees evidence of brutal war crimes The United Nations warns that accurate civilian casualty statistics will not be known for months or years after the war ends.
The explosion broke both of Darlena’s legs. 

In a small hospital room in Chernihiv Darlena's mother, Natalia, sat near the bed of her 15-year-old daughter as silent tears filled her eyes. Darlena stared into some undefined distance, her physical body motionless and broken, her mind seemingly far away.
The grief and relief of goodbyes was evident as more than 200 people gathered in a shopping mall parking lot in Mykolayiv, Ukraine. The group, largely comprised of women and children, had all made the decision to leave their homes in the southern port city. 

Men hugged their children and partners before helping them board large buses, others waved farewell from inside departing vehicles, all carried only a single suitcase and some a small pet. None knew if or when they would return to their home.

The evacuation was the final leg of the three-day mission that took us 
throughout much of Ukraine. With buses full the caravan began the trek westward through Southern Ukraine. Ten hours later, just after 2AM, all 200 Ukrainians were settled in a shelter in Chişinău, Moldova. 

This evacuation was one of what are now near daily efforts to assist those in besieged cities to flee. Some travel to other parts of Ukraine while others cross the Ukrainian border and become refugees. 

In the 10 weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine more than 5.9 million Ukrainians have become refugees and an additional 7.7 million are currently displaced within Ukraine. 

These numbers are expected to grow as Russian forces continue indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilians and cities. 

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Copyright © 2022 Maranie R. Staab, All rights reserved.
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