Elizaveta looked at me and at the microphone. I was stretching out towards her. She breathed in deeply. Her mother looked at her and gave her her hand.
During that moment before Elizaveta started to talk, my blood froze. That gesture between these two generations of Ukrainian women gave me an emotional electroshock. It meant love, it meant pain and strength. Still incredulous about what had changed her life from one day to another, Elizaveta began to talk.
“In Ukraine, there is a big problem. Putin is killing our children. So many children.”
She wasn’t crying, but tears just started coming down her eyes. I couldn’t keep any emotional distance as a journalist from what I was witnessing. Thierry’s eyes, behind the camera, were full of tears too and Karolina, our local “eyes and ears” couldn’t hold it in either.
The same scene was repeated over and over again during our ten-day mission in Poland, on the border with Ukraine. We couldn’t maintain our distance. That wave of sadness and pain coming from Ukraine just hit all of us. One recurrent question continued to go round in my head. Why is all this happening?
Many times, I felt intrusive. But many times, I was surprised by the response. These mothers, grannies, or young women were aware they had a role to play, even away from home, even as refugees.
“The world needs to know,” Lyuba told me at the bus hub in Przemyśl, the main Polish town near the Ukraine border. Shaken and still in shock, she described how her entire world had turned upside down:
“Putin is the aggressor. Innocent people are dying. Tanks are shooting everywhere. A young girl, 18-years-old, is standing there with a machine gun. It’s horrible. Tanks in the city. Everywhere. People are wearing military uniforms. Stop him or there will be a nuclear war. Stop him. Tomorrow he will be in Europe. Stop him.”
20-year-old Veronika was lining up wrapped in a big blanket at the Przemyśl bus hub. She told me Ukraine will win because “Russia fights with an army. Ukraine fights with people.” This strong sense of belonging and endurance is something I came across in all the refugees that I talked to.
And there was Lyudmilla, too, a 67-year-old retired doctor, who affirmed: “We will get through this”.
She tried to smile while saying it. In that forced smile which turned into tears, I saw all the resilience of a population that is fighting for justice, democracy, and freedom.
Aren’t they the values the European Union is founded on?