By Sarah Marsh
BERLIN – Ukrainian refugee Anastasia said she has barely slept in the 90 hours it has taken her to flee to Berlin after Russian missiles started raining down on her hometown of Kharkiv, blowing out the windows of her flat.
Now the 31-year-old artist, who did not give her last name for fear of repercussions for her relatives left behind, is one of more than a thousand mainly women and children arriving each day in Germany via Poland to seek refuge.
“We left our home the moment the planes shot at our community and the glass in our windows broke,” Anastasia said at Berlin’s main train station, before taking the last train of her odyssey to stay with relatives in Munich.
“We have no stuff, we have no money, we have no anything now,” she said, adding through sobs that she was afraid for the men of conscription age who were obliged to stay and help in the defense.
A million refugees have already crossed from Ukraine into the European Union in eastern Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary and northern Romania since the start of the Russian invasion, according to the United Nations.
And what started as a trickle in Germany has already grown into a steady flow of more than a thousand as railway operator Deutsche Bahn offers refugees free travel.
At the main train station, volunteers saying which languages they speak seek to orientate refugees upon arrival, recalling scenes from 2015, when more than a million people from the Middle East fled to Europe and Germany took in the bulk of newcomers.
One floor has transformed itself into a makeshift welcome center, with volunteers serving up hot food, handing out warm clothes and shoes and providing toys for children to play with.
GERMANS RALLY SUPPORT
Donation collection points for Ukrainians have sprung up around town in recent days as Berlin residents use messaging applications like Telegram to organize aid efforts.
In one corner of the station, some hold up signs offering accommodation in their homes as an alternative to state shelters.
“You feel sort of helpless, so I wanted to at least help someone to get a few nights good sleep,” said Paulin Nusser, 26, a student living in a shared flat holding up a sign offering a couch for a few nights.
David Henning, 31, said he was giving over one floor of his hotel to refugees. So far, he had welcomed fleeing students who just needed one night’s rest before continuing their trip as well as several mothers and children who needed a while to figure out their life.
Aid groups told Reuters the fact this war is within Europe means it has hit closer to home than those in the Middle East that sparked the 2015 crisis, fostering even greater willingness to help.
Meanwhile both they and the state are better organized to jump into action, thanks to that previous experience, while the bureaucracy is easier. EU interior ministers agreed on Thursday to grant temporary residency to Ukrainians sparing them from going through lengthy asylum procedures.
But that did not save them from trauma, said Ahmed Makhzomi, 31, who arrived from Iraq during the 2015 migrant wave and is now volunteering at Berlin’s central station.
“I’ve lived through many wars, I know what it’s like,” he said. “So I wanted to help in what way I could.”
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Martin Schlicht and Fanny Brodersen; Additional Reporting by Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)