We never know who will get off the Vostok SOS bus in the afternoon. Because those who got on the waiting list yesterday and whom we could rescue first have to get on the bus in the morning. But there was shelling at night, and it made people change their minds so drastically that they all stood near the bus, ready to go — some with a small handbag, some on crutches, some in wheelchairs, some on their feet but with a 90+year old grandmother. To go, not to a concrete place, but anywhere away from here. Away from the war. No matter where.
So, the challenge of our volunteer evacuation coordinator began when a hard-bitten driver was seized by a panic attack. The driver said that yesterday he brought 22 old women plus these five people — but in wheelchairs — to a place that was ready to receive five young and fit people who could sleep on mattresses in the gym. You can’t force such things on people, he said. You have to have a prearranged plan.
We persuaded him to take people to the station. We arranged for «very modest accommodation», and asked them at least to let people use the toilet. We bet that no one would stay. Somehow, we managed to unload all our troubled households: suitcases, bags, packages, walkers, canes, people at the station. We carried out a million conversations through the daughter of Uncle Ben’s godfather. We reached some preliminary agreements. Some people got sick, some had eaten bread rolls and now felt as if they had a little bit more mobility. Some people have been on crutches all their lives, and we thought they couldn’t even breathe. But they’ve been living like this for 45 years and now they run faster than we do. And let’s not forget the swine of a taxi driver who stopped his car 30 metres from the drop-off point, because of the puddles there. «I will not go further!» But in general, we deal with unique tough men, taxi drivers, who grumble but load stuff, wait, are patient, agree to be paid by card, not cash, and turn away with embarrassment… They learn to regard disability as a part of life, and they drive.
And in three days' time, this act of faith occurs again, in a desperate attempt to squeeze passengers onto the bus to Romania. And here we go all over again, with stops for car repairs and explanations that no one will leave anybody in the middle of nowhere. And sometimes you have to resort to a polite but persistent request to shut up and stop talking about peace and the brotherhood of nations. Because what can you explain to a 99-year old lady about statehood? All you have to do is just bring her alive to the destination.
I want to write a book about all this. My wish lasts exactly 5 minutes: while there’s a break in calls and tasks and while I’m inspired by the sight of Yarik, who takes a lady in a wheelchair to the station toilet. How he managed there, I do not ask, who knows. There’s heavy traffic, we’ll chat after the war. When Re (from rebenok, meaning a child in Russian) returns.
Viktoriya, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast