The ukrainian refugee bus

– Photo essay –

by Fernando Paramio

On April 6, a team of four Spaniards and one Ukrainian – exiled 20 years ago – flew to Warsaw to bring 40 Ukrainian refugees, previously selected, to place them in Spain.

The meeting point was the bus station of the Polish capital, at 8:30 PM, where we discovered that only half of the passage was waiting for us. A search against the clock was initiated for those interested in traveling to Spain. By directly asking at the station to the refugees who were piling up there, contacting a bus that was crossing the Ukrainian border at the time, and going to a refugee camp, we finally managed to fill the bus. Almost at 4 AM we started the return trip by bus, lasting 44 hours.

During the journey we tried to make our passengers feel comfortable, learn more about them and document the return to make their situation more visible, which we hope will serve to encourage others to launch similar initiatives. It is about each one helping, within their means, these poor people whose lives were brutally and inexorably twisted on February 24.

Bringing 40 refugees on a bus does not say much; it’s just a number. My goal as a volunteer photographer was to show them, to show the people behind the number, but also to give them a voice, to let them speak directly to you, so a key part of this photographic document was to ask them to write a message to the world, to portray them with it.

I hope that all the refugees we brought, and all Ukrainians in general, will be able to return to their country soon, that they will regain happiness and that justice will be done to the unjust people who have provoked and sustained this war.

The team and the outbound flight

Estrella

Irina

Tximo

Johnnie

Warsaw airport

Warsaw bus station – first impressions and meeting with refugees

We arrive at 20:15. Static atmosphere – long queues – just 20 refugees (expecting 40) – checking bus (missing food and just two drivers; expecting 4)

Efforts to find more refugees who want to travel to Spain

Lots of phone calls – entering again into the bus station to ask directly (we achieve 5 people) – finding a bus crossing Ukraine border with a family interested in joining us – locating a refugee camp

The refugee camp

Around 10 km away, there is a refugee camp. It’s a fair pavilion converted into a camp, where 15000 people are crowded. We do not have much hope to find someone who wants to travel with us, being so late (00:30). Through the glass gates, we see the beds, one after the other; the lights are on, and not everybody is sleeping. Thanks to a Ukrainian volunteer (you can see him in the picture in front of the bus), who speaks Spanish (he told us that he completed his 3-month internship as a cook at the acclaimed Spanish restaurant El Bulli, by Ferran Adria) we find 9 people (two families and a woman traveling alone). We left at 1:15 AM. Photos are not allowed.

Meeting the bus from Ukraine

We need to wait two additional hours. But it is worth it. Because we help a family of 6 (plus a cat) to come to Spain and fill the bus nearly completely. We meet on an urban road and left at 3:30 AM. 

On the way

Short night. 6 AM is the time registered by my camera for the first picture. The bus is jumping due to the bad road surface and the driver is trying to keep the maximum allowed speed, as we are 7 hours late. We start meeting each other. First physiological stop (planned every 4 hours). Giving things to the kids so the travel is more entertained for them. Changing card phones.

The route

We do not go through Germany, as we are told there might be control issues. Our refugees has come from different points of Ukraine, and we cross Poland, Chequia, Austria, Italy, France and finally Spain.  

The graphic report

To meet better our new friends and document the travel, we make several interviews. They need to speak and be heard. 

We have an artist infiltrated among us

Taia. She travels with her grandma (Raia) and older sister (Victoria). Her parents stay in Ukraine. Shocking drawings. The War (a tank, the flags). An iconic motherhood. A pacific symbol. And the beach where she is heading, with the colours of the Ukrainian flag

Italian Border. Control Stop. Army – Civil Defence – Acnur

Initially we felt worried, as we realized at this point that we didn’t request the documentation from either the refugees we spontaneously recruited at the bus station, the refugee camp, or the bus with the family of six. Luckily documentation was OK and this was a wonderful stop where we could feel the warm wishes from the personnel there. They offered us Chai tea, toys for the kids, and kind words. 

The messages to the World. Preparation

The messages to the World

These are the Ukrainian refugees, the drivers and us talking directly to you. 

Guide to emotions by Iryne

Our translator played a key role before, during and after the travel. She’s a very passionate and full of energy person 

María Ángeles Estrella

Estrella, Indeser’s co-founder (with Tino Fernández). They collected the funds to launch this initiative. Her high responsibility and involvement were fundamental for the success of the mission 

Other moments along the journey before the destinations

Landscapes – sleeping – portraits – smiles – soft love

First destination. Barcelona

Smiles and tears.  

The journey continues. Next destination: Valencia

Emergency stop: bus toilet is full. Playground: it’s great to see the kids playing. Crossing the Ebro River. We say bye to a nice family in Valencia. They will continue the travel to Madrid by car (a volunteer will take them) to join friends.

Towards Alicante

We continue recording interviews to know more about our refugees. Beautiful people with sad stories behind them. We say bye to two lovely families.

Final destinations: Málaga

The story of Tania and Eugenia. This shouldn’t be happening. Arrival time: 23:30.

 

A late celebration

At 1 AM at Estrella’s house, members of Indeser, their families, Iryna and I start a BBQ to celebrate the end of our journey and share thoughts. We end at 3:30 AM, tired, personally feeling 49% sad, 51% happy.

Better ambiances

Improved sensations

Greater comfort

Greater prestige