Haunted by the refugees encountered in Ukraine
The freelance journalist co-founder of The Rover platform Christopher Curtis has just returned from a ten-day trip to Ukraine. In an interview with Métro, the Montrealer explains that he went to meet Ukrainian refugees to better understand the human consequences of the Russian invasion.
What prompted Christopher Curtis to go alone to Ukraine, it is first a feeling that is similar to guilt, he says.
Indeed, while talking with a Ukrainian “coordinator”, the journalist learns that the lady in question has a daughter of about the same age as hers. “The fact that her daughter has to be in danger and mine can live, that you can almost take it for granted that it's going to be easy for her, that really bothered and disturbed me,” says Christopher Curtis.
“Watching the news reports and seeing the number of children who are affected by the war, I really felt unable to think of anything else,” he continues.
Mr. Curtis publishes his reports in English. You can read here a translated version of one of his texts. For full coverage of his journey, visit The Rover's website.
Human Lives Changed Forever
Of his arrival in Ukraine, after crossing the Polish border in the middle of the night, Christopher Curtis especially remembers the vulnerable refugees, the vast majority of women, children and elders, who tried at all costs to flee their country. < /p>
For him, it was important to understand how this “98 or 99% of the country” who is not at the front is experiencing this crisis. “You have to understand that war is not just what you see on television, highlights or explosions. War is watching a child wait in line for 24 hours to get out of their country. It’s being on a bus with people leaving the country with no idea what tomorrow will bring them,” he explains.
Mr. Curtis was based in Lviv, a city in Ukraine through which he saw around 100,000 refugees passing through every day. “A large part went through the train station. There were so many children that a special room had to be created to accommodate babies. […] It’s hard to think about those little ones,” he says.
A mother and her daughter on their way to take a train from Lviv to Poland.
Serhii, a gentleman who still remembers the days of Stalin.
Jaroslav, a scout working with refugees and humanitarian aid in Lviv. Credits: Christopher Curtis
According to the testimonies of refugees met in Ukraine, Christopher Curtis affirms that civilians have the impression of being targeted by Russian military forces.
They often talked about the fact that their neighborhood has no strategic value and that destroying their neighborhood is of no use to the Russian army. Except scare them and kill them.”
Since the beginning of the invasion, a hundred children have lost their lives and twenty medical facilities have been bombed, recalls the journalist. “It is not a coincidence. We're targeting civilians. This is what happened in Syria,” he adds.
According to Curtis, Ukrainians are victims of “ethnic cleansing” by Russia. “There is a dehumanization [of the Ukrainian people] and an extreme level of violence. Human life has no value for the Russian president. It gives you nightmares,” he says.
The shock of returning
After 10 days of absence, Christopher returned to Montreal on Tuesday, driven by the desire to see his baby and his wife again. “I was almost ashamed to have left them. But at the same time I was ashamed to have left Ukraine because I felt like I hadn't really helped or could have done more. There is a lot of guilt. I'm still trying to negotiate those emotions in my head,” he says.
Although he mentions that this stay made him miss certain irretrievable memories with his daughter, the journalist believes that everything was worth it. The one who says he never felt in danger in Ukraine is already planning to return there in a few months, when things will be more stable.
He would also like to discuss with other refugees from elsewhere who, according to him, “have to grieve not only for the country they have lost, but for the future that they may have lost. Of their language and the subtleties of their culture that they will never be able to find in another country”, he thinks.