In Focus: Nesehnutí Stories – Sleepless Nights For Ukraine
Nesehnutí has been supporting Ukrainian civil society since 2014. But at the end of February, when the Russian invasion began, the nature of the support changed fundamentally. For the last seven months, Nesehnutí has been providing material aid, helping victims of sexual violence, supporting independent media, and assisting those who are on the run. Members of the organization help day and night. Every day brings a new little story. And sometimes the same happens at night. Here, Nesehnutí member Martin Hyťha describes one such night. Photo credit: JMK.
Two of us had already set off the previous night, heading to the Ukrainian-Polish border in an empty bus. There they will pick up a group of nearly 50 war refugees, mostly from the at-risk Crimean Tatar ethnic group. My colleague and I will later take over the group at the Brno Exhibition Center, where the Regional Assistance Center for Ukraine Support (KACPU) is located. We have taken part in a short training session, learning how the place works. It will help us to check in the group of war refugees as quickly as possible. Or at least we believe so. This is our first experience in evacuating people that are running away from war.
We wait for the “GO” signal in the Nesehnutí office. My colleague even brought a sleeping bag, in case the bus was delayed. She didn’t use it, but it eventually found its purpose. A few days later, we accidentally packed it together with three dozen other sleeping bags, which we helped to transport directly into Ukraine. It probably ended up in Dnipro or Zaporizhia.
After midnight we get a call that the refugee bus will be in Brno in about an hour. When our colleagues actually get off the bus, their expression clearly foreshadows what expects us. I see fatigue, tension, and the expression of the state you get into when you answer dozens of questions, many of which you, unfortunately, don’t know the answer to. We introduce ourselves to the coordinator of the group, who is our hope for effective communication. Meanwhile, dozens of tired people, who are in an unfamiliar environment and have many questions, focus on us. And the fact that they have to go through the registration process before finally getting some rest is not reassuring.
“We have relatives in Germany, what are the conditions for refugees there? If we apply for a humanitarian visa here, can we go there later? And what train? And where can we sleep tonight?
This is just a fraction of the questions to which we don’t know the answers. So we try to focus on what we came for – translating and helping with filling out the forms. We check in elderly people, families with small children, or those visibly ill first. Despite the barrage of questions, which always come from at least three people at once, we manage to send most of the refugees through the first station, where they receive their visas.
We spend another hour running around the individual stations and translating wherever we are needed. The intersection of the language skills of the refugees and the present employees is minimal – the older ones at least are brushing up on the basics of Russian they learned in school. The ever-present tension thickens at the final station – accommodation capacities in Brno are full. People will be transported to various, often forgotten corners of the region. And there is no room at all for the last few refugees.
“Accommodation is no longer available!” The firemen announce laconically. Within the given space we try to transform this message into a more diplomatic form. As if that was possible. People who didn’t get to leave surrendered to makeshift sunbeds. We are giving the last pieces of advice to the family that decides to continue their way to Germany. Without a Czech humanitarian visa, they don’t get sunbeds. But there isn’t much time left until sunrise anyway.
It’s four in the morning when I cycle home, and fragments of situations and emotions still flash before my eyes. Despair, resignation, fatigue, and rage. This was only 50 people. Million more are now on the run from war. Is it even possible to imagine the amount of suffering a dictator and his henchmen can cause? And is there a way to deal with it? Questions dissolve in the morning sun. Without an answer.
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