KYIV, UKRAINE – As the first snow of the year has slowly started to fall down on Ukraine´s capital just one day before the celebrations of Orthodox Christmas, the blasting sirens of the air raid alarm echoed throughout the city center. Walking on Kyiv´s main street – Khreshchatyk – the Ukrainian people are unbothered, however. Though the air alarm is blasting through the sky, a warning of potential missiles reaching the city, people just go on about their daily lives.
As a former student of New Mexico Highlands University – I studied there one year in 2009 – I quickly became a news correspondent in 2014 for several European publications. It was when the annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbas (eastern Ukraine) happened that I moved to Kyiv. Roughly three years later I moved back to the Netherlands. Now, as the war in Ukraine has intensified and Russia invades this sovereign European country, I decided to travel back to Ukraine to explore the country again amidst one of the biggest wars fought in Europe since the end of the Second World War.
Usually, it will take roughly three hours to fly directly from most European capitals to Kyiv. As war is raging through the country and the air space is closed there are no commercial flights anymore. In order to reach Kyiv, I took the train from Przemysl, a small town in the south of Poland, some 10 miles away from the Ukrainian border. In the first weeks after 24 February 2022 – when the war started – hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees passed through this sleepy border town and still many organizations and volunteers are located there to help Ukrainians in need. Sometimes children as young as the age of 5 or 6 would travel all alone on a train to a foreign country as long as their parents know that their child would reach safety.