How a Ukrainian family of five escaped horror to a new life in Italy


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Download the app Close icon Two crossed lines forming an ‘X’. It indicates a way to close an interaction or ignore a notification. A family from a small village north of Kiev fled on foot when Russian troops burned and crumbled buildings around them. The family walked for 48 hours until they were finally picked up and driven to the border. In a refugee camp in Beregsurany, Hungary, they were given a new lease of life on the coast of Italy. Loading Something is loading.

BEREGSURANI, HUNGARY – When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Irina’s village north of Kiev was one of the first areas to be bombed. But it wasn’t near them yet, so her family stayed.

They stayed in their rural community near Irpin for 12 days.

There was no school or work, planes flew over and tanks with the letter V raced up and down the streets.

There was an occasional explosion, but there were only residential houses in their village, so they felt they could stay safe.

That all changed on March 8.

“For the first time, they started bombing us — we civilians — at 3 a.m.,” Irina, who was sitting on a mattress on the floor of a shuttered elementary school, told Insider Tuesday morning. “Our houses were on fire, but we still hoped it was an accident — that someone had made a mistake. Then, at 5 a.m., it was clear it was ours.”

Irina played videos on her phone showing Insider the rubble that surrounded her house. Rockets landed in the residential area, destroying everything nearby. All that remained was scorched earth and a Russian Orthodox church.

Refugee family, Ukraine, Russiam Irina showed Insider videos of the devastation in the village where her family had fled. Port Orecchio-Egresitz

Irina and her three children – 11, 12 and 13 – grabbed the small bags they had already packed and ran for their lives.

“She got a present, a dog, and she dreamed of a pet for a long time, but we couldn’t take him,” said Irina, pointing to her 12-year-old daughter. “We went on foot and we weren’t sure if people would pick us up if we had a dog with us.”

Irina’s husband, who turned 60 in December and therefore did not have to keep fighting, joined them.

“We were on foot for 48 hours,” Irina said.

They walked countless miles past nothing but scorched earth, hoping someone would pick them up. But their family was large and at this point in the war there was very little traffic.

Ukraine Hungary refugee Olga, 12, told Insider what it was like to flee her village on foot. Port Orecchio-Egresitz

“We walked and walked and listened. We tried to stop cars, but cars wouldn’t stop,” Olga (12) told Insider. “After a while a car stopped and it took us a bit. And again, after a while several cars stopped and we were all able to pass.”

The volunteers took the family to the border in Transcarpathia. Then vans picked them up from a refugee camp in the small Hungarian village of Beregsurany.

Irina's family, Beregsurany, Ukraine, Hungary A family of five Ukrainian refugees arrived at the Hungarian border on March 15. Port Orecchio-Egresitz

From no plan to a new life

When they arrived at the refugee camp, a few buildings on a small plot of land in a rural village about three hours east of Budapest, Irina and her family had no idea where they were going.

They wanted to find a home, a place to work and a school for the children, she said. It was unclear how long that would take. But for now, the camp was full of volunteers who would try to help them.

Locals threw ladles of goulash from a large barrel into bowls and served it to the dozens of Ukrainians at the site. Food trucks gave away sandwiches and sweets. Smaller children played with donated toys or on nearby playground equipment.

Doctors helped those who needed treatment after their trip – for Irina, that was a sedative.

Speaking to an Insider reporter and translator on the school floor, the family looked up.

Three men in firemen’s uniforms were standing over them. They did not speak Russian, Ukrainian or Hungarian, the main languages ​​spoken in the camp, but rather Italian.

The men told the translator that they had driven for 12 hours overnight and had enough space to return 10 people to Rimini, Italy, a tourist community on the coast. They had already arranged an apartment for a refugee family and would have the children at school on Wednesday.

The tourist season would start soon, one of the men said. Securing work in the industry would be easy.

Irina and her husband hesitated. They had spent all their lives in Ukraine and knew nothing about Italy, except that it was very far from home.

However, Hungary is not an easy place for foreigners to assimilate, the translator explained.

This was the first time the country opened its doors to refugees and there was no infrastructure to help those who needed it.

Italy was a good chance, the local translator told her.

The family chatted with the firefighters – through the translator – for about 10 minutes before agreeing to leave with them.

By early afternoon, they were in a van on their way to their new lives, 2,000 miles from the only house they’ve ever known.

Although their family is safe, they still live in fear of the Ukrainians who failed to get out. Three people, all over 80, stayed in what was left of their village.

Irina insisted that the airspace in Ukraine should be closed and the humanitarian corridors should be spared.

“Everything we saw, what my kids saw, it’s horrifying to have to go through this,” she said.

Translator Marina Shafit provided translation services in Beregsurany, Hungary.

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