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“Refugees are left with a suitcase and the security to be alive”

Grandstand. This trip to Ukraine inevitably brings me back to those made during the war in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. I was in my forties then, I am now 71, but the disorientation of returning home is still the same. After the days spent with those who have lost everything and who are camping in makeshift dormitories, after the distribution of our load and once our trucks have been emptied, the return to the starting base leaves us as dazed as then. And it doesn’t come from fatigue, it comes from a void, the disarray of someone who can come back safe and sound.

The refugees are left with a suitcase and the surety of being alive, of being able to wait. It is their conjugation of time, the present indicative of the verb “to wait”, without looking towards the past or the future.

After 1,350 kilometers of travel on good roads, through Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, the convoy arrives at Sighetu Marmatiei, a town on the border with Ukraine. Leaving from Modena, it is organized by the volunteers of [la fondation] Time4Life, which operate in several regions of the world, from Syria to Nicaragua. I didn’t know them. It was a volunteer from the Bosnia years who pointed them out to me.

On the toy bridge »

Sighetu Marmatiei is the birthplace of Elie Wiesel, who was a child in Auschwitz, then awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I find no trace of it in the city. Sighetu Marmatiei is separated from Ukraine by a river, a bridge connects them.

On arrival, we deliver our load to a pediatric hospital which receives Ukrainian children. A woman has just given birth there, after having held back her contractions until the hospital. She left kyiv by a railway line still in use leading south, about 3 kilometers from the Romanian border, and from there walked to the border bridge, where she was immediately met by the Red Cross. Romanian.

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She puts her baby in the arms of the volunteers who, after unloading, pass through the wards to say hello. The war in Bosnia taught me the immense need for human warmth, closeness, affection, necessary to not feel alone in the chaos of losses and leaks. It is good to be several to show up, ask for news with the help of interpreters. We are about thirty volunteers on this trip.

Every war has a fratricidal form, but this one even more, because of the close link of culture and history between Ukrainians and Russians. Gogol, Bulgakov, Nekrassov, Babel – my favourite, who pushed me to study his language – are Ukrainian writers in the Russian language. The Cyrillic alphabet allows me to read the names of places, signs, panels. We cross the bridge between the two borders. Along the sidewalks, someone has left dolls, toys for the Ukrainian children who will be there to welcome them. This bridge is already called the “toy bridge”.

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