1. Traveling to Ukraine, a Land Where Spring Has Yet to Arrive
It is already March. Spring is in the air and flowers have begun to bloom. We welcome the arrival of spring. However, there is one country where spring is still feeling the cold of winter with no spring in sight yet.
That country is Ukraine where the Russian invasion has destroyed the country and forced millions of refugees to flee to neighboring countries. Russia falsely claims and demonizes Ukraine’s nationalism as neo-Nazism to justify its invasion. Russia has become increasingly more ferocious because its war against Ukraine has been unexpectedly prolonged.
So far, more than 2.5 million refugees have fled their destroyed and insecure homeland and headed to neighboring countries. Many European countries have been actively helping the refugees. Nonetheless, JTS has decided to conduct an observation tour in the five countries bordering Ukraine to find out how to help the refugees.
Here is our report from March 10 to 14, 2022.
Jina Park, the president of JTS, left Korea for Germany to survey Ukraine’s borders. Park joined Choo Hee-suk, a dentist and member of Jungto Society in Germany, and her husband, who is a pediatrician. Thankfully, Choo Hee-suk’s dental clinic was temporarily closed.
The First Day: March 10, 2022
We left Frankfurt at 6 am for Warsaw, the capital of Poland. It was the first day of our long observation tour of the borders. We drove 1,087 km on this day.
The Second Day: March 11, 2022
At 6 am, we left Warsaw and drove to the border area in Chelm, Poland.
After observing the Chelm area, we drove further south near the Hrubieszow border. We assessed the current situation at the border checkpoint, what support was being provided to the refugees and what organizations have been involved. One refugee family we met at the border told us that they used to live in an eastern part of Ukraine. They also said that they had arrived two days ago and were planning to go to Germany to see their brother. They added that those who did not have enough money could not even evacuate Ukraine.
When we arrived at the border, we saw several Ukrainian cars that were parked. No refugees crossed the border on foot. It was a generally calm atmosphere. Around 10 big tents were set up to provide necessary goods and food to the refugees. There was a reception center in a gym in the park in Hrubieszow where enough food and goods seemed to be prepared for the refugees However, it occurred to us that the refugees may need long-term housing and a job.
The Third Day: March 12, 2022
At 7 am, we left for the Hrebenne border. A lady we met there told us that her parents were still in Ukraine and her uncle took her to the border. She also said that she planned to go to Poland. We saw several cars from Germany. A driver and his friends from Munich said that they were delivering medical supplies to Ukraine. Many volunteers were providing warm food for the refugees. We could even see a supply of dog food.
On our way to the Medyka border, we were stuck in traffic about 8 km from the border because the border was closed. We turned around and drove to the Kroscienko border where we had the best border observation so far.
The Fourth Day: March 13, 2020
We drove to the Zahony border in Hungary by way of Ubla and Nemecke near the Slovak border. Because the economy in Slovakia is worse than in Poland, the quantity and quality of goods for the refugees seemed less compared to what we saw in Poland. Unlike the Polish border patrol, the Slovakia border patrol first checks the refugees once they cross the border and then requires them to check in again at the reception point in front of the border checkpoint. They did this to further assess the refugees’ situation.
Nemecke is a relatively big border village where a large number of refugees crossed into Slovakia on foot rather than by car. They said that it took approximately 10 hours to walk from the Ukraine border to the Slovak border. Although the situation at the reception point was worse than in Poland, there were showers and a restaurant, and volunteers regularly cleaned the restrooms. We later arrived at the Zahony border in Hungary, but did not see any border police or signs at the border. We did not see any refugees in the building, but volunteers were organizing refugee relief goods inside.
The Fifth Day: March 14, 2022
There were no separate facilities for the refugees at the border between Lonya and Barabas in Hungary. However, many goods were prepared for them at the entrance of the border police station. Around 500 refugees per day used to arrive there but, recently, that number has decreased significantly. A young lady we met near the Barabas border told us that she has been helping refugees safely evacuate. She also said that many refugees were still in a nearby Ukrainian area.
We decided to enter Ukraine in order to assess the situation there.
Observing the Mukatschewo area, Ukraine, after crossing the Hungarian Border
Official documents were needed to enter Ukraine from Poland. However, all you need is a passport to enter Ukraine from Hungary. However, we ran into some difficulties crossing the Hungarian border into Ukraine.
The Hungarian border patrol searched us for guns and drugs. After the patrol checked the owner of the car and our Covid-19 vaccination status, we were allowed to cross the border into Ukraine. Despite the relatively wide road, we had to drive slowly due to many potholes.
After driving for one and half hours, we met a young man who was helping the refugees at the railroad station in Mukatschewo. With his help, we were able to go to the refugee center located at the center of town. The center was very crowded with refugees, who were packed in all the way up to the door of the small rooms.
We introduced ourselves and JTS to the director of the center and asked if he needed anything. The director looked at his phone for a while and showed us a picture of a tourniquet on WhatsApp.
The director told us that the most urgently needed item in Ukraine was tourniquets. He added that they were not available in neighboring countries except Germany. We immediately tried to find ways to purchase them in Germany. However, due to the unstable Internet connection, we had to contact the SOS team in Europe. After finding the price of tourniquets and the areas in Ukraine they could be delivered, we talked to JTS Korea and decided that JTS America would provide them to Ukraine. We then discussed specifics with JTS America about how to acquire and deliver tourniquets to Ukraine.
It was already 5 pm local time so we quickly left the center to cross the border. Ukraine is a vast land. It was spectacular to watch the red sunset in the distance over the long and straight road. It was evening and smoke rose from the chimneys. There was a smoky smell when we opened the window. The scenery looked as peaceful as any other of the East European villages we passed through yesterday. The only thing that reminded us that the country is at war was a passing military vehicle.
We arrived at the Ukrainian and Hungarian border and waited two hours. However, we eventually were able to cross the border and drive into Hungary. After going through some tense moments at the border, we were relieved to drive on a Hungarian road. However, we were concerned about whether or not we could get enough tourniquets and deliver them to Ukraine without any problems. We truly hoped the delivery process of tourniquets to Ukraine would be smooth.