Tom and I visited northern Romania in October, to visit the Happy Cemetery (Cimitirul Vesel) in Săpânța, in Maramures County along the northern border of Romania. This link will take you to the post where I write about the Happy Cemetery.
That part of Romania is vibrant and gorgeous, and is a real mix of Romanian and Ukrainian. Here is a video of Săpânța as we drove away:
As we left Săpânța, we drove along a country road and looked across a small rivulet and realized that were we to stop the car, we could get out and walk into Ukraine. That’s a Ukrainian village in the distance, but the unmanned border was just yards away.
On the east side of Romania, the country of Moldova sits between Ukraine and Romania, but up in the north, they share a border, as they do in the south along the Black Sea, on a block of land that Ukraine owns beneath the border of Moldova. The port of Odessa is located there.
Why do I mention this factoid? Because the Russians are currently attacking Odessa, which lies a mere 260 miles from Bucharest, in the southern part of Romania. That’s about forty miles less than the distance from Kyiv to Odessa. Certainly too close for comfort for the people here in Bucharest. Everyone is tense about the possibility of the hostilities spilling over the borders, into Moldova and Romania. Because no one knows where or what Putin’s next attack will be, waiting for the shoe to drop is slow-drip torture for all those concerned.
Romania has already seen a wave of refugees. Nothing like Poland has seen, apparently, but the numbers are growing dramatically with hostilities increasing in the south, and the people of Romania (and the US Embassy) are responding with great generosity, offering places to stay, necessities of life such as food and clothing, and a warm welcome. Helping others, who through no fault of their own have had their world turned upside down. I read about a couple from Sweden who drove to Poland to find someone to offer their house for sharing, up to eight people. In Berlin, refugees were met by locals who offered places to stay and the comfort of a friendly hug and welcome.
Take a look again at the video and these photos.
The people being attacked look just like these folks, and the countryside isn’t a war zone … it a beautiful nation with people who are just trying to make a life, like you and me. What we see on the news—destroyed buildings and scurrying people—that is not the norm. They live in regular cities, pursue normal life, and have the same joy and dreams as we have. They are not “Other,” merely from a different place, with different dress and customs. But they react exactly as we would if our nation was invaded and our homes bombed.
Certainly, they didn’t ask for this upheaval of their lives. Imagine, waking one day and discovering that Denver, or San Diego, or Austin, or any major town in the US had been surrounded by troops and suffered the horror of missiles flying into buildings, or, as has been reported, vacuum bombs destroying blocks. Suddenly, there is no question of going to work or doing anything you would do on a normal day. Instead, you have hours to gather your belongings, whatever you can carry, and your children, your dog or cat, and your elderly parents…and running to safety. Not everyone has cars, either, so how do you run if you have no car?
Two million of these folks have fled their nation. TWO MILLION. Most are from the cities, but the rural areas are also being impacted, especially by Russian troops scavenging for food to eat. And the rural areas are generally populated by the elderly.
I am astounded by the people who have risen up to defend their country, and I wonder whether Americans would be so willing to step into the fray for our country. One day you are a journalist, the next you are training on an AK-74, swallowing your fear as you prepare to repel trained Russian troops. This is their reality.
I think how tragic this is for Ukraine, on so many levels, in so many ways…the complete disruption of life and dreams…and the needless loss of life. This must end. But even then, life will never be again as it once was. Recovery will take decades.
I can’t help but wonder what the other denizens of Ukraine think about the war:
They didn’t ask for it, either.