Evacuees fleeing Ukraine for Poland face harsh times

Kunihiko Miura / The Yomiuri Shimbun
A woman hugs her children protectively at a border checkpoint in Poland on Monday morning.

MEDYKA, Poland — After walking 26 kilometers along Ukraine’s M11 highway, the border checkpoint with Poland was finally in sight.

The scene at the checkpoint was one of chaos, with hundreds of evacuees fleeing the Russia-Ukraine fighting gathered there.

It was early Monday morning, about 20 hours since my photographer colleague and I left the city of Lviv in western Ukraine.

The car we were in was ensnarled in a traffic jam due to restrictions on the highway, so we walked the rest of the way with other evacuees.

When we arrived at the checkpoint, the throng of people made it hard to move. After standing for three hours, the line barely moved.

Eventually, Ukrainian soldiers approached me, telling me to move to a service gate. When my colleague and I were about to head to that gate, my colleague was stopped. “The woman goes. The man stays.”

Kunihiko Miura / The Yomiuri Shimbun
A throng of evacuees waits at a checkpoint in Poland on Monday morning.

In Ukraine, a full military mobilization was ordered Feb. 24 when Russia began its full-scale invasion, preventing male Ukrainian nationals ages 18-60 from leaving the country. So each man at the border undergoes strict screening to ensure that he is not fleeing the country by pretending to be a foreigner.

Kunihiko Miura / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Evacuees walk along a road in Ukraine about 13 kilometers from the border with Poland as snow falls on Sunday.

We both presented our press permits issued by the Ukrainian government, explained our purpose for having stayed in the country and eventually managed to get through the checkpoint.

After going through the gate to leave Ukraine, there was a line to wait for screening by Polish immigration. The path leading to the screening area was packed with evacuees who were all in a frenzy. Some were even screaming at Polish soldiers across the 2-meter-high iron fence at the end of the path.

Kunihiko Miura / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Evacuees in Ukraine sit around a bonfire to ward off the cold about 3 kilometers from the border with Poland early on Monday morning.

Others squatted, out of energy. They didn’t know what to do if they couldn’t cross this border. They were all desperate.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A woman hugging her children protectively was allowed to pass through the evacuees and finally reached the Polish side. Having been through harsh times, the children began to cry intensely.