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A testimony: Escaping Ukraine

Alan Sutton, a close friend of Saint Margaret's, Budapest, shares his story leaving his home and son in Ukraine. 

"I have been living in Dnipro in central Ukraine since 1997. For most of that time, I have been organist to St Katherine’s Lutheran. My house is in an idyllic spot by an inlet off the River Dnipro itself, about 15 miles from the town where I live with my 19-year-old son, Julian.

We bought a generator as we live outside the city and our water supply is a well with water pumped up by an electric pump. We slowly stocked up with food and fuel. I had a lot of pressure from family outside Ukraine to leave while Julian was adamant that he would not leave; he was born there and lived all his life there.

Pictured: Alan's home in Dnipro, Ukraine

So, as a compromise, I said I would follow the Embassies and decamp to West Ukraine for a bit, not to L’viv, where everyone else was going, but to Mukachevo - a rather picturesque town near the Hungarian border. There is a daily train to Budapest so I bought a train ticket for the evening of the 24th. I was very lucky. The invasion began in the early morning of the 24th, and Dnipro received two bombs, one on the airport and one on a radio station.

Thereafter it has been quiet. Long queues formed at ATMs, Pharmacies, Bakeries and Petrol Stations. I thought I would have to stay. Then we found out at the last minute that my train was still running, and so I took it. There were a lot of people at the station but I missed the scramble as I already had a ticket. The other berth in my compartment was occupied by a couple with a toddler who amazingly slept for almost the whole of the way to L’viv.

The train was blacked out at 8 pm and we travelled very slowly all night, stumbling around in the dark or using mobile phones as torches. We were also rerouted due to an air attack on one of the towns on the main line. While we were travelling, news came through that men aged 18-60 were forbidden from leaving the country, and there was a tearful scene by the couple when we arrived at L’viv as they had planned to go to Poland, but he would now have to return.

I continued to Mukachevo, and the next day was lucky again, getting a ticket from a gentleman who was now unable to travel. He asked me to see his wife onto a train to Warsaw from Budapest, which I did.

Pictured: Alan at the 2015 Europa League Final in Warsaw

Since that time, over 2 million have left Ukraine, of which over 200,000 have travelled to Hungary. Most of them are going to wherever they have friends or relatives who can take them in. By far the largest numbers are going to Poland or the Czech Republic where already large numbers of Ukrainians were working.

Almost all are women and children, apart from the sizeable contingent of foreign students. I was very depressed to hear of two neighbours of mine, a mother and daughter, who have a sponsor in the UK who is a British citizen but not family. They made it to Calais, via Moldova and Romania, in a journey far less comfortable than mine, only to be told to go to a visa application centre in Paris, where they have been for three days.

Read about the Diocese in Europe and USPG Ukraine Appeal or you can donate to the appeal here.