One woman’s 18-point survival checklist for fleeing Ukraine as Russia invades
PRZEMYŚL, Poland – As millions leave Ukraine to escape the Russian invasion, one woman’s checklist for surviving the train ride to Poland reveals the despair and struggle that awaits those who try to escape.
Inna Grynova was in a rural part of western Ukraine when Russia began to build up its troops. She had waited anxiously for when an attack might begin, and then, on the morning of February 24, it began.
“I woke up to a call from my parents. And the first thing I heard from them was, ‘Enough. Putin attacked Ukraine. Run away,'” she told NPR. .
Grynova’s brother offered to fly from Kyiv with his family to pick her up, but when the planes stopped flying and panic set in, the roads were blocked.
What would normally be a half-day trip from Kiev to the countryside ended up taking three days. It took eight hours just to leave town. They finally reached it at 2 a.m. on February 27, three days after the invasion began.
At first the plan was to drive their car across the border, but the queues grew and it took them two days to cross. Then came the news: Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 would not be allowed to leave.
“My brother was immediately ineligible to cross, and he was our driver,” Grynova said. “He was suggesting that, OK, maybe I’ll give you my car and you’ll try on your own. But I told him he needed the car much more than we did.”
Instead, Grynova traveled to Lviv train station in western Ukraine with her niece, sister-in-law and sister-in-law’s mother to board the evacuation train to the Poland.
What followed was a grueling 24-hour journey.
In an effort to help those who would come after her, Grynova wrote a detailed account of the trip and outlined exactly what to expect.
“It was like a life hacking post,” she said. “For example, here’s how to survive and how to get your family to safety.”
Below is a translated and slightly edited version of his account.
Grynova Survival Checklist
Preference is given to women and children. If you’re a man, come help, but don’t try to get on the train. You still won’t be allowed in, but you block the women behind you from entering.
Arrive at the station at least two hours in advance. Otherwise, there will not be enough space on the platform. We couldn’t get on the first train because we arrived too late. To get on the train, we stayed 4 hours on the platform in the same place.
Do not take things that are too bulky. We saw people leaving buggies and large suitcases right on the platform because they couldn’t get on the crowded train.
It is not necessary to buy a ticket. It’s an evacuation train. When he arrives and the door opens, it’s the law of the jungle. You must act quickly. Don’t panic, keep the children in front of you, let them go first. It’s a scary moment, many are scared, children go into hysterics afterwards. But you have to survive it, and adults: Don’t panic.
The wagons are crowded to the last centimeter. In our “coupé” (of course there are no walls) there were 12 people for 6 seats. In ours there were 8 adults and 4 children. They were sitting in each other’s arms. Standing is difficult and there is nothing to hold on to.
While waiting for the next train, we did not leave the place where the door of the previous train was. We tried to keep the places. We went to the toilet one by one. There were actually reported airstrikes, and some of us were hiding in the basement, while others were keeping our places on the platform.
Usually the train takes about 4 hours. Our train left at 8pm on February 27th. Around 10 p.m., we stopped at Mostyska station. The driver didn’t know how long we had to wait at this location. The line of other trains was ahead of us. Initially, we thought we would stay there for 30 minutes. We actually left at 11am the next day, all that time was right there. Two other borders follow. We went out to Przemyśl in Poland at 8:25 p.m. the next day. So it took 24 hours to get to Poland.
So expect a very long journey. There are no toilets. The first six hours we were not allowed to get off the train. Since the train is clogged, it is simply impossible to get out. We had to arrange for others to start going out as well. There was no platform so you have to jump about half a meter or more. Going up is also difficult, but people help each other. Drink very little water on the train. For children – take enough layers.
Dress in layers. If you enter the car, it is really very hot. If you don’t enter the warm part of the wagon, it is very cold.
Pack high-calorie snacks with you. Preferably ones that leave no litter – there’s nowhere to throw them or keep them, and in 24 hours the smell will be unbearable. The water was put in huge buckets and passed into the wagon. Water must be conserved. Take a sip in your mouth and wait a few minutes, then just swallow. This way you have enough water for longer and you can live longer without a toilet.
Have the medicine on hand. Lots of people were getting sick so you have to have throw up bags.
We didn’t sleep for the whole 24 hours. There is a bright light, children are crying. There were about 250 people in our car. If you can sit up, it’s good to have your headphones, face mask and inflatable pillow under your head (or at least roll up a fleece/sweater).
Everyone is stressed and emotional to the max. There is a war at home, the men have to fight, the children are on their hands, everyone is stressed. The level of aggression was off the charts. That’s why you have to stay balanced, to achieve your own goal. Do not respond to aggression from others. Some people refused to let others go to the bathroom and many were not allowed back in the cart.
I had no connection for most of the trip. So tell your loved ones that you won’t be able to answer, and that’s okay. The signal passed very rarely. But the phone dies while you do.
Ukrainian border guards got into the car, immediately checked the documents and stamped the passports. Some passports were taken for inspection. Several foreigners were deposed. The station has toilets and food. Hardly anyone left the wagon – and that’s a mistake. Once the documents are checked, go to the main house for the toilets and for the food.
At the arrival [in Poland] the volunteers immediately start throwing water, cookies, candies and various treats for the children out of the windows. There were even a few toys.
When you get out on the platform, the border guards set up a queue. The first are families with children under the age of two. Then others with children. At the very end, those who arrived childless. At the exit of the building you meet volunteers who can take you to other cities for free. In the main station building there is free tea, coffee, food, hygiene products. The same volunteers will find you free accommodation, there in the coordination centers of the station. Come and tell us what your situation is and you will be helped quickly and free of charge. If you need clothes, shoes, everything will be found. Even the car seat for the children.
The way of the train is hard, very hard. But it’s much easier than being under fire. Nothing to do with what our people live in the bombed cities. I have parents, a brother and many relatives and friends who remained in Ukraine. Those who took up arms are in fact heroes!
[Copyright 2022 NPR]