A man walks with a bicycle in a street damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, Thursday, 10 March. Photo for representation.
There are many love stories unfolding at this very moment in Ukraine and on its borders. As Russian bombs and shells rip through the country of 43 million people, at least two million have already been forced to flee. Each one of them is a person with a story – the story of a loved one left behind.
Dasha, a 31-year-old baker, left Ukraine with just a small sports bag. Her husband drove her for 700 kilometres to the Hungarian border, from where she crossed over on her own, leaving him behind. “If he doesn’t come to me in two weeks' time, I am going back in there for him,” she cried inconsolably at the refugee reception centre in Beregsurany, a small village on the northern side of the international Hungarian-Ukrainian border.
“Our child is with my parents in Serbia. We were there for new year’s eve and left our kid there because of the rising tensions in Ukraine. I am headed there at the moment”, said Dasha.
Like her, most refugees arriving from Ukraine are women and children. Men like Dasha’s husband have had to stay behind because of the Ukrainian government’s temporary restriction that prohibits Ukrainian men aged 18-60 from leaving the country to be available for military conscription.
“We are mostly seeing women with their children. Almost all of them have left their husbands, partners or boyfriends in Ukraine. But they also have family or friends waiting for them at the other side of the border,” said Roos Van Hennekler, a Dutch journalist reporting from the Hungarian-Ukrainian border.
Ukrainian authorities have said that the evacuation of civilians from besieged cities such as Kyiv, Mariupol, Sumy and Kharkiv has been very challenging because of the Russian shelling.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expects an estimated four million people to flee Ukraine. “This is the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II,” tweeted the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.
But as European countries like Hungary and Poland open up to accommodate and care for hundreds and thousands of refugees pouring in from Ukraine, migration experts and refugee activists have drawn a stark comparison with Europe’s refugee crisis that started in 2015 and is still ongoing.
Jeff Crisp, a former head of policy, development and evaluation at UNHCR, of the Orban and Duda government who have shut their borders to other refugees from war-torn countries of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“From the Hungarian point of view, it is easier to be generous if the people are white and Christians rather than brown and Muslims, which is really sad”, said freelance journalist Alexander Faludy, who is reporting from the Zahony-Uzhgorod border in Hungary.
It’s not double standards by just the governments. When Roos Van Hennekler wrote the story of a 35-year-old jewellery designer who fled Ukraine with her two children and arrived at Tiszabecs in Hungary with nowhere to go, help poured in from across the world. “A woman in the Netherlands offered them her house to stay in. They also were offered help from another family in Austria and now they are living with them,” said Hennekler.
Seven years ago, at another Hungarian border, many other refugee mothers from Syria had arrived with nowhere to go. Fariyal, a 32-year-old mother, had sat on the cold tarmac breastfeeding her infant behind the closed border gates of Hungary at the Roszke-Horgos border, pleading to find a safe space. She, too, like Dasha, had left her husband behind in a war-torn country and had longed and prayed for his safety while fighting for the survival of her infant.
Experts believe that the war in Ukraine might make it even harder for refugees from non-European countries to find asylum now. “Depending on how the war in Ukraine develops, it is likely that Europe will soon host millions of Ukrainian refugees. At the same time, the EU and individual member states are among the major donors for refugee-hosting across the world. Future discussions on funding may see a decreased willingness from Europe to host any other refugees from other regions in the world, including through official resettlement,” Bram Frouws, Head of the Mixed Migration Centre.
As an activist and journalist who has worked closely with refugee women since 2015, the one thing that I have observed is the narrative of love through each of the refugee stories. Be it Ukraine, Syria or Afghanistan, refugee voices always echo love, not hate, in the time of war.
“I will go back for him, if he doesn’t come to me”
- Ukrainian wife (2022 refugee)
“I will crawl on my knees through mountains if I have to but no one can stop me from seeing my baby”
- Syrian mother (2016 refugee)
“One day I will see my mother again, inshallah!”
- Afghan daughter (2015 refugee)
(The author is a journalist based in Delhi. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)