( President of the jury: Ami Vitale )
TOO PRECIOUS TO LEAVE BEHIND
More than one million Ukrainians have been forced from their homes since the Russian invasion began. Most had only minutes to pack and even less time to think about what to take. What do you bring when your world has been upended? Sure, you’ll pack clothing, documents and maybe some food. But what else can you cram into a suitcase, a backpack, a purse, a plastic bag or even a pocket that will remind you of the life you’re leaving behind? What can you hold on to that will keep memories alive? We asked refugees arriving at the Polish border crossing at Przemysl to show us the things they just couldn’t leave without.
28.02.2022- 03.03.2022 Aid Humanitarian Centre in Przemysl, Poland
for The Globe and Mail with correspondent Paul Waldie.
As she raced around her house in Chernihiv, Tetiana Novytska made sure to pack her favourite dress and her best shoes. When she walked the final few kilometres to the Polish border, Ms. Novytska stopped to pick up something more precious: a pine cone and a leaf from an oak tree. She carefully tucked both in a side pocket of her purse. “It’s a little piece of Ukraine that I’ll always carry with me,” she said.
When the call came to get out of Odesa, 35-year-old Natalia ran for the cupboard where she kept the family photos. “It was the first thing I thought about,” she said. “I was saying maybe this one, maybe this one.” She jammed a few in an envelope, including two of her favourites: a shot of her as a teenager, which brought back memories of her childhood, and a photo of her son, Amir, graduating from kindergarten. “I couldn’t leave without these pictures.”
George left Russia for Odesa, Ukraine, five years ago for a better life. The 24-year-old programmer settled down, got married and developed a passion for music. He knows he stands out as a Russian among refugees in Przemysl, but he has no time for Vladimir Putin’s “massacre.” When fury and worry grow too overwhelming, he pulls out a small music box he got as a New Year’s gift from his wife. He doesn’t really know how to play it, but the sound that it makes is soothing enough.
Dmytro, 13, doesn’t usually wear the cross he received on his baptism. But when his mother said they had to get out of Kyiv in a hurry, he made sure it was fastened to a chain on his wrist. “It’s protection,” said his mother, Liudmyla. As proof of its power, she shows videos on her phone of the bomb blasts that missed them and the Russian tanks they evaded.
“This my hope,” says 15-year-old Jaroslav. He holds up the one-litre canteen he’s been carrying across Ukraine to Poland. This is no ordinary canister. It’s the one favoured by his brother, a soldier in the Ukrainian army. Now it’s a reminder of him and what it takes to keep going. “If I have my canteen, I always have water,” says Jaroslav. “And I will survive.”
When Elena’s mother frantically called and told her to get out of Kyiv with her baby, Ms. Stadnyk’s brain froze. “I started brushing my teeth,” she recalled with a laugh. “And then I was thinking, what am I doing brushing my teeth. I’ve got to get out of here.” She quickly threw together a suitcase and grabbed any gold jewellery she could find, just in case she needed something to sell. That included a bracelet that had been given to her eight-month-old daughter, Alisa. They made it to Przemysl without selling a thing. “I never would have sold that bracelet,” Ms. Stadnyk confessed. “She only has one thing.”
Lyda Lyda, 44, carefully unwrapped the fraying birth certificate and smiled at the memory of her grandmother, Zoia. She was born in Poland and died in Ukraine in 1963, according to the death certificate, which Ms. Tsehelnyk, 44, had also packed. The Polish connection was now something to celebrate, she told her children. “If we stay here we have documents to prove we have a Polish grandmother,” she said loudly.
Dina, 55, is so sure she’ll return to her apartment outside Lviv one day that she brought all of her keys — one for the front door of her apartment building, one for the garage and two for the seventh-floor flat she shares with her husband, Vietali, her daughter, Lena, and their seven-year-old parrot Tedi. How convinced is she that Ukrainians will beat back the Russians? “Yes. Yes. Yes.”
Link-The Globe and Mail