After days of deliberation, the decision to leave seemed to come suddenly. We just had to go and try to get Dennis through. We quickly packed what little we had, cleaned the house, and hit the road. I tried not to think about what was going on. We hit some traffic after a few hours but I assumed it was another checkpoint along with gas station lines. When we got closer, I jumped out to use the gas station bathroom. That’s when I realized it wasn’t a normal checkpoint. It was the Ukrainian border.
My heart dropped and I felt sick to my stomach. I hadn’t expected to get here so soon. We only had a few hours left in Ukraine. Who knew when we would return? I swallowed my tears so the kids wouldn’t see me upset and went back to sit in the car.
We slowly inched forwards for hours. Volunteers walked up and down the road, handing out tea and water to the long line of people fleeing the country. They didn’t seem to be Ukrainian. But it was such a Ukrainian thing to do, and it brought us a little comfort. We got food at the gas station and some last Ukrainian snacks, but we ate it in the car so we didn’t get lost. It was nice and sunny out. Eventually, Galya got the kids out, and we walked along the side of the road to stretch our legs. The closer we fit the more people we saw walking. I realized they didnt all have cars. Perhaps they had taken a bus this far, but now they had to cross over by foot. Slowly but surely, we reached the border.
Dennis handed over papers. We gave our passports. The guards talked with Dennis for a long time. But eventually, he was denied. They needed to see 3 children with him, all with birth certificates to prove they were his. The unborn baby and his first son didn’t count.
Our hearts were shattered. The family said a very emotional goodbye. The kids didn’t understand. They tried to take one last picture but the guards made them delete it. No pictures were allowed within the border for security reasons. And we couldn’t linger. Dennis turned and walked back across the gate into Ukraine. And we drove forward.
Our documents were checked again on the Romanian side. Suddenly, we were driving through, and I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. The floodgates were open. Simultaneous relief and heartbreak. Pain comparable only to the day of my great-grandmother’s funeral. We were truly grieving. It felt like my heart was being physically ripped in half.
It wasn’t fair. We had finally made it to Ukraine. I was finally living out my dream, my calling, since I was 12 years old. And now we were being forced to leave. Words are not enough.
Our first view of Romania was rows and rows of tents and booths set up to recieve people. People were offering clothes, food, and a warm place to sit. Priests, monks, nuns, pastors, and others moved in a flurry of activity. It was as if we had escaped a bubble of frozen time, and my brain caught up.
This was real.
This was real, and people outside Ukraine knew about it, and the world was responding, and it was real. The emotions were overwhelming. None of us were able to hold back our tears.
The rest of the story is short. We didn’t stop at the tents. We kept driving. Eventually, we came to a little town and found a place to eat since it was now dinner time. The only other patrons in the restaurant were also Ukrainian. They came through a smaller border crossing, and they let their husband through even though he only had 2 kids. We ate quietly, emotionally exhausted. I played Red Light/Green Light with Matfey in the small gravel courtyard that served as a parking lot. And then we moved on, every kilometer taking us farther away from Ukraine.
The eastern mountains of Romania reminded us a lot of Montana, and for a moment, I pretended I was back. We were still several hours away from Cluj when we hit a pothole the exact same size as our tire, except for a jagged edge which sliced both tires on the drivers side. Thankfully, we were able to flag down some help. Between our mutual knowledge of English and Russian we were able to communicate. After we replaced one of the tires with the spare, they led us to the next village and a beautiful bed and breakfast run by a woman of Ukrainian descent. It was especially comforting for Galya to be able to speak in her native language on our first night in this new land. She fed us well in true Ukrainian style. The woman’s husband drove Mitch several hours to the nearest city the next day to pick up some new tires, which, miraculously, they had in the size we needed. By that evening, we finally arrived in Cluj.
The YWAM staff graciously welcomed us into their Guest House, a hostel with several bedrooms and a shared kitchen and dining area. It was well stocked with food and they made themselves available if we needed anything. Ironically, the Guest House was being overseen by our now friends Jessica and Kwame, who we had seen in our last days at the Ternopil base, but hadn’t had a chance to meet. Everyone made us feel so at home, and the work they were doing for the Ukrainians made us instantly at peace about joining their staff. And so, our time in Ukraine was over, and our 9 months in Romania began.
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