Personal Perspective: Interviews that touched us the most on our way to Ukraine

As my husband, Eric Haseltine, and I left Los Angeles last month to interview Ukrainian refugees in Germany, Poland, Czechia, and Ukraine, we had no idea that this trip would make such a great imprint on our life.

We flew from Los Angeles to Paris, France, and went to the Doctors Without Borders, a.k.a. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) headquarters in Paris to interview a logistician coordinator who had just come back from Ukraine. We also interviewed two MSF psychologists. Then we rented a car in Paris and drove across Germany and Poland to end up in Rava-Ruska, Ukraine. On the way back to Paris, we drove across the Czech Republic. The trip was filled with adventures, unpredictable events, and surprising interviews with relief organization volunteers and Ukrainians.

Here are the 12 most powerful insights from our interviews with volunteers and Ukrainians.

1. For many refugees, anger was not the dominant emotion:

Ukrainian refugees we interviewed in Germany and Poland were not all angry at the Russians; they were most often just sad. Many said that Ukraine is a peaceful country, and all Ukrainians want is to live, work, and be happy with their family.

When we asked Olha, 31—a pregnant woman from the suburb of Donetz who left her husband fighting in Ukraine and who now lives in Marpingen, Germany—why she wasn’t angry at the Russians, she said, “I cannot condemn the whole country of Russia; people are divided. I just want my old life back.”

2. A lot of Ukrainians were stunned at the attack:

Several highly educated Ukrainian refugees told us that until February 24th at 5:00 am, they couldn’t believe that Russia would really physically attack Ukraine.

Timur (who lived in Kyiv before the war) said, “We are in the 21st century, and I thought that, for sure, there would be a diplomatic way to avoid a war.”

“Nobody believed the Russians would invade,” said Natalia (who also lived in Kyiv before the war). “Nobody had a plan to escape.”

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