Evacuation trains leave Kyiv packed, tense and quiet. Confused, frightened children, nervous animals, tired and exhausted people. Someone is lucky enough to sit in a chair. The rest just fall on the ground in the aisles and vestibule. Not many personal belongings, but they take up all the remaining space.

The train passes the station, and, almost immediately, the cabin lights go out. The whispers convey an instruction from the side of the door, “No telephones, bright lights, turned on Internet, or, God forbid, geolocation.” Everyone obediently turns off the screens. It’s dark. Quiet. The train carefully steals between the dark fields and villages. Somewhere it freezes, and somewhere it makes a sharp jerk.

Children begin to be capricious. They want cartoons, toilets, candy, or a walk. There is no place to walk around. The only way to get to the toilet, is by air. But everyone understands everything, tucks in their legs, try to let others pass through. Parents do their best to calm the little ones down, but the moment one end of the wagon calms down, the other one wakes up.

An hour passes, then two. On a normal schedule, the train should already approach Vinnytsia. They say that we will be in Vinnytsia no sooner than two hours. Maybe there will be no stop. Someone tries to get angry, but they are quickly bullied. The children fall asleep. It gets hot, and there is little air. Boring. Terrifying. I want to drink, but, as you remember, it is not easy to get to the toilet.

There are lights ahead. Vinnytsia. The train flies by without stopping. Someone sighs, and someone hides under his jacket and starts calling. The next potential stop is Khmelnytsky. The arrival time is unknown.

Hours pass. The children wake up, and the same cycle starts again. Lights ahead once more. The train slows down, and the cabin lights are on. Everyone squints, gets their phones, and waits for an update on the situation.

We arrive at the station. An announcement of a 5-minute stop. Some people start chaotically grabbing things, children, and cats, and making their way to the exit. They jump on the platform but do not become much freer.

Suddenly, a huge checkered bazaar bag is thrown into the vestibule, followed by two more. Then two women drag in another one. People start grumbling a little. There is no space to even turn, and now more bags are coming. Someone tells them that maybe there are animals, and there is no need to start arguing.

Women with bags do not pay attention. With efficient and almost memorized movements, they quickly open the bags and start throwing some packages into the hands of those closest to them.

“Quick, pass it on. 3 minutes left!”

People obediently pass on. One bag is empty, followed by two more. People in the cabin wake up and try to realize that their hands are pocked with packages.

One of the women shouts into the salon:

“Are there small children?”
“There are!”
“How many?”
“Somewhere around 20”.

She opens the last bag and shakes the packages out of it.

“Pass them to moms!”

And in the cabin, like a wave goes on, “pass to moms, pass to moms.“

The train twitches. One of the women quickly grabs the empty bags, the other throws the rest of the packages directly on the floor, and both jump out on the platform.

“Luda, water!”

A block of water is thrown into the wagon, followed by another. The train starts moving.

People, as if coming back from the dead, begin to open the packages that were poked into their hands. In each bag, there are three oatmeal cookies, a sandwich with cheese, a sandwich with butter and sausage, an apple, two chocolates, and a few candies. In the packages handed over to mothers, there are a pair of diapers and three packs of baby food.

The light goes out again. The cabin is quiet, but the candy wrappers are rustling, and someone asks to pass the water. They say that Ternopil is next, but maybe there will be no stop.

A dark train steals between dark fields and villages.

©Anastasia Haridzhuk

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