Paul-Adrian Mihai, volunteer

Bagajele abandonului

The last picture from my phone before the Russian invasion of Ukraine was taken on Sunday, 20 February. I had been volunteering for a few months working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, right in the town where I have been living for 5 years. We didn’t have enough volunteers at the time and because the children were very energetic, I asked just one of them to come so that we could study in peace. Except instead of one, 11 kids showed up. Each of them brought their sister, their cousin, their neighbour. I was panicking a bit, but I managed eventually.

Then, on 24 February, we learned about the invasion and the bombing. I thought it was clearly fake news, there was no way they were attacking the whole country, I expected them to attack on the ground from the east, starting from the areas that have already been under attack since 2014, not to hit Kyiv.

A few days of serious worry followed, I was thinking that maybe I should head out West too, as far away from the Russians as possible. The first refugees started to arrive in Romania, and Romanians were mobilizing everywhere. I was somewhat numb, I would have liked to help somehow, but I didn’t yet know how.

At the beginning of March, I found out that trains with many hungry Ukrainian children, without water or other supplies, arrive in Arad. That’s when I told myself that it was time to help, that we needed to organise ourselves in Brașov and help the Ukrainians who were in transit. A group was created from a handful of big-hearted people, a community of people who wanted to help: people who spoke Russian or Ukrainian and helped with translation, people who physically carried entire boxes of water or bags of food, hygiene products, toys and colouring books to the trains, people who made sandwiches in their own kitchens. Very different categories of people took part in it: Italians, Americans, Ukrainians, Moldovans, Orthodox, Catholics, missionaries, priests, children, animal protection activists, people from political parties, from the local LGBTQ community, motorcyclists, etc. People who first in cold and frost, through rain and wind, then even during heatwaves, were present daily at the station, for the trains with Ukrainians who stopped for only a few minutes.

On the trains I met a lot of women and children, old people, many puppies, many cats. Most of the time they only had a few pieces of luggage, a bag, a backpack each, sometimes just grocery bags. Sometimes they were wearing broken shoes or their kid was barefoot. Often, they needed medicine. They were exhausted, worried. They were thinking about what they had left at home, about the men in the family who couldn’t leave the country, about where they would end up, far away from home, among strangers…

I continued volunteering at Brașov train station until June-July. In March there were 3 trains a day, with 300-400 Ukrainians each. Then the number was gradually much reduced, and in the summer, it was around 20 people.

What I found impressive was that some of the people who were volunteering at the station also started volunteering for the Romanian children from disadvantaged backgrounds I was working with. And some of the volunteers helping with the activities for children started going to the station to help Ukrainians as well.

I hope that this terrible war will end soon and that all people will be able to return to their homes and their lives.

Story collected by Ionuț Sociu for the Suitcases of Abandonment campaign. Project funded by CARE through SERA Romania, Care France and FONPC.