Ukrainian refugees seek safety in Germany via fraught 15-hour journey

Just a few carriages away from the Sukhars sat a boisterous family of six or eight — depending upon whether you counted the cats resting in a crate atop a suitcase in the middle of the compartment.

Larisa Afonina, 52, said the sound of whizzing rockets and blaring sirens in her neighborhood in northern Kyiv had become unbearable. She left for the relative safety of western Ukraine with her two oldest grandchildren, Elena, 14, and Viktor, 13. 

Her daughter Anastasiia Efimova and two younger grandchildren, Paulina, 10, and Diana, 9, followed the next day, carrying their cats, Oliver and Charlie.  

Sitting across from her mother, Efimova, 33, was less convinced. She had been very reluctant to leave, and she said the uncertainty of going to a new country with four children was very scary. Her husband, Serhiy, is serving in the Ukrainian army and stayed behind to fight. 

“It was scary to leave everything behind,” Afonina said in Russian. “But it was better to do something than to do nothing.”

Afonina and her family planned to go to Berlin and then the town of Wismar in the north of Germany. All they knew about Wismar was that Elena’s best friend and her family had traveled there 11 days earlier and told them there was temporary accommodation available.

“We should probably Wikipedia it,” Efimova said, laughing. 

Nobody in the family speaks German. 

As the train whizzed by a small Polish town, the whole family got excited by the sight of a green area with tall apartment buildings and a river running by.  

“It looks just like our Obolon!” Efimova exclaimed, referring to the district of Kyiv from which they had escaped. 

As the area that reminded them so much of the home they left behind slowly disappeared from view, the family grew silent.

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