At a train station in Poland thronged with dazed, exhausted Ukrainian refugees, everyone is clutching something. For adults, it's mostly cell phones, their faces strained as they try to hear faraway loved ones over the station noise. For children, it’s toys or lollipops, and fruit passed out free by Polish volunteers. Some hold tightly to their pets.
There is so much that has been lost in the weeks since the war began. What remains is more important than ever.
And escaping the violence in Ukraine is only the beginning of a long journey for these families.
An uncertain future for Ukrainian refugees
While waiting in the railway station, a mother wraps the velcro of a bungee leash onto her child’s wrist. She wraps it and unwraps it, then tries again to make sure it's secure.
It's the main rail station of Krakow, a few hours west of Ukraine. In the past weeks, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian mothers have sat here on suitcases or seats, crowding their children close, shell-shocked and confused.
"I told my children we needed to go to a safer place," says Katerina, a mother of five. "The little ones didn’t let me go anywhere for a second. They were watching me all the time."
Thankfully, these mothers and children have made it this far. Once they crossed the border into Poland, they were no longer threatened by bombs and guns. "I feel safe now, but I'm completely exhausted," says a woman named Olena. Her 5-year-old son Timor hovers near her, reluctant to move a foot or two away to play cars with a boy in his group.
The immediate threat is over, but other threats loom. Already separated from loved ones who stayed in Ukraine, these mothers are desperate to keep what remains of their families together. To do that, they will need not only the food and clothes generously provided by Polish volunteers at places like the train station, but also temporary housing and eventually a way to pay for all the expenses of beginning anew in unfamiliar lands.