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refugee

by Varvara (Ukraine)

March 2022

Write the World Review

Audio: "refugee," read by Varvara

​​5:33 a.m.

i woke up to a rapid push: we were underway. our commuter train had been standing still since 10 p.m. the previous day: we were letting an on-coming train pass us since there was only one railway line leading to the country’s border. seven hours of complete stillness and darkness in a tiny coach with certainly ten times more people than there were supposed to be.

there hasn’t been a moment of silence since we set off. behind me—a three-month-old baby. it has been crying for an indefinite amount of time. in front of me—three little children aged somewhere between three and ten sitting in the arms of their mothers. they too have been crying for an indefinite amount of time. they are hungry, tired, scared. and i feel for them. and it hurts.

normally, the road from lviv to przemysl should have taken us only one to two hours. however, the situation is clearly beyond normal. everything seems to be so beyond normal.

my phone died a couple of hours ago. i don’t care much about that—there is no service around this god-forsaken field we have been standing in. the only thing i care about is my mom not hearing back from me for quite a while now. her paranoid mind probably thinks that i got stuck somewhere, got kicked out of the train. i am indeed all alone here so she has her reasons to be anxious. we said our goodbyes at the train station in my hometown. in the tiny window, i saw her standing on the platform, lost and consumed by her thoughts, trying to see me through the glass from the other side, holding back the tears. she never cries.

i hope to see her soon. or, should i say, i just hope to see her again.

i still wonder what terrible luck got me onto this train. i remember how it was, i remember it from the very beginning. from my best friend waking me up with a phone call to us packing the go-bags; to us going to the store and seeing nothing on the shelves; to people panicking on the streets; to students leaving their dorm rooms without looking back; to my mom begging me to come home from kyiv; to me catching the last train home; to me seeing thousands of people at a subway station—with kids, pets, suitcases; to me coming home and us sitting in the air-raid shelter every day; to my mom convincing me to leave, to cross the border all alone, right before they would surround our city and there would be no way out; to me almost suffocating in the crowd when boarding the train to lviv; to us having ten people in the seat instead of the regular four, to a couple of ecuadorian students sitting in the train hall with a tiny dog in their hands; to the kids crying; to the women fighting; to finally exiting this tired train.

i remember boarding at 7:55 p.m. the previous day, remember the complete chaos at the railway station. mothers with children, screaming and crying out to the train conductors: “please, i have a baby here, please, help us!”; people shouting at each other because of pushing and pulling; men trying to make way for their wives and kids, shoving them onto the train; bags and suitcases being handed above the crowd of heads; children being handed over as well; bags falling down, falling on the heads, falling on the rails; the conductors trying to keep a cold head but still losing their temper. and i remember myself in the center of it: i was going with the flow, in complete peace, having no strength for anything else, holding my tote bag tightly, with that weird confidence that i would one way or another get onto that train. my sensory systems were completely overloaded, and i was out of touch. still, hope remained. physically unable to scream or push or cry or even say something after a number of sleepless nights, i just believed in this. simply going with the flow. and somehow i got on. and somehow i was lucky.

“yes, lucky,” you’d agree.

and i’d say: “yes, a refugee.”


Varvara is an eighteen-year-old university student. On February 24th, 2022, she was woken up at 5 a.m. by a call from her best friend telling her that the airport located near their dorm was being bombed. Running from the war, she spent around 72 hours on the road when she finally reached her final destination—the Polish border crossing point.

#Ukraine Dispatch            #Ukraine

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Tom Lofft

9/24/22, 2:13 PM

Was this inspired by flights over Iceland?

Sydney

9/24/22, 10:04 AM

Amazing. I love it.

Allison

9/23/22, 7:34 AM

This is just so good!!!! "The air has been poisoned' I love how you describe things! Congrats :))

Allison

9/23/22, 7:32 AM

Love the message! The way you prompt the readers to rethink over 'is anything free' is so effective and the ending is...gorgeous.

Allison

9/23/22, 7:30 AM

Gosh, Antara...this is really beautiful! I love your use of language, and the anecdotes were so effective!! Congrats so much :))

Nidhi Kamalapurkar

9/22/22, 9:30 PM

I love it! Especially the part where you say if humans can control the world, they can control themselves too!
Keep up the brilliant writing!

Evelyn

9/22/22, 5:22 PM

Poignant and so beautifully written!

Evelyn

9/22/22, 5:19 PM

I love the flow, this is gorgeously written! Great piece!

Evelyn

9/22/22, 5:17 PM

Life really is all about the little things and you wrote about them in a beautiful way!

Evelyn

9/22/22, 5:16 PM

This is a lovely piece, Keren-Happuch! It provokes such a magical and dreamy feeling.

VM

9/19/22, 5:47 PM

Oh my god, the part about changing the mindset given the pre-existing beliefs drilled in by those around us... Even we often hesitate to have these conversations at times amongst friends as this topic is seldom more than a subject of twss jokes. You put it into words brilliantly!

Avisha M

9/17/22, 6:46 PM

this was thought-provoking! I particularly enjoyed how you connected existentialism to the topic. it provides a different perspective.