BRONNYTSIA, Ukraine — Here at the border crossing into Moldova, Ukrainian border guards once waved through six to 10 cars a day — mostly locals, quietly cruising back and forth.
Now the guards just stopped counting. Some of them didn’t even expect to be here.
There’s Igor, a former border guard from nearby Mohyliv-Podilskyi, who said he voluntarily changed back into his military uniform three days ago to help the war effort, leaving behind a long-distance trucking business. Working with him is Oksana, a 42-year-old accountant at the border guard base who was called up to active duty a month ago.
“I thought these are peaceful times, I’ll just keep border guard as usual. And now these are not peaceful times at all,” Oksana said. “I had no training, I was still studying, and now I’ve flown straight into practice. They haven’t even trusted me with a gun.”
The peace was shattered last week when Russia unprovokedly sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine, circling cities on the ground and bombing from the air. people fled.
At this border – the closest crossing point to the capital Kyiv – Oksana and Igor have now witnessed what the United Nations said could soon become Europe’s biggest refugee crisis of this century.
In this remote, rural corner – with not much on either side of the Dniester crossing but sleepy villages, forests and orchards – they have seen families split up, some going to Moldova while others returning to fight . You saw how Moldovans helped those who made it.
Early Thursday there were long queues of cars trying to cross from both Bronnytsia and Mohyliv-Podilskyi.
At the Mohyliv-Podilskyi entrance, people had to wait eight hours or more to pass through a new checkpoint made of cinder blocks and sandbags, where members of the local Civil Defense Forces thoroughly searched cars before allowing them to the crossings.
At the Bronnytsia crossing, which leads to Unguri in Moldova, guards couldn’t say how many people got through in the last six days – they can’t keep track.
Igor, who left military service to start his business, said he felt compelled to come back when war broke out.
“It turned out I was good at it, and the business really took off,” he said. “But I had to come back to do my duty.”
Oksana is serving at the border while her son, 24, was called to the army recruitment center a few days ago.
“He didn’t really want to leave,” Oksana said. “But these are the times we are in. Basically, Russia has been trying to smother us for eight years. But now it’s really terrible, innocent people are dying.”
A new Ukrainian law bans men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country to be drafted into combat. Many cars here are driven by men who drop off their families at the border before returning home on their own.
“A couple of men are also trying to leave,” said Igor. “There are cowards everywhere. But not many.”
The law leads to many sorrows.
Fathers of large families (three or more children) are exempt, but their children are not. One such father arrived at the border from Kyiv on Thursday. But his eldest son is 18, meaning the father was able to leave with his remaining children, but his son was not.
On the same day, Oksana said, three Ukrainian cars returned from Moldova.
“We had men coming back from working abroad to fight for Ukraine,” she said.
Villages on each bank of the Dniester have mixed Ukrainian, Moldovan, Roma, and Russian ethnic populations. Moldova also has its own Russian-backed separatist enclave of Transnistria, where Russian troops have been stationed since the early 1990s.
Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, took in over 80,000 Ukrainians last week. The country has set up a refugee center at the larger Mohyliv-Podilskyi border crossing, which the Moldovan President visited on Sunday.
“We are all united now,” Oksana said. “The Moldovans are really helping.”
https://www.politico.eu/article/ukraine-moldova-border-guard-hard-choice-war/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication At the Ukrainian border, two guards witness the hard decisions of the war - POLITICO