The lifesaving strangers offering refuge to Ukrainians fleeing the war

ITV News Correspondent Lucy Watson reports on the Polish people opening their homes to those fleeing Ukrainian

"I’m in a black coat and my mum is in grey, and with a cat"

They were the first words Marysia Starzewska heard from 15-year-old Alexa Stefaniuk who was about to come and live with her. Strangers, who had arranged to meet as Alexa and her mother Larisa crossed the border from Ukraine to Korczowa, Poland.

They’d been put in contact with one another through a friend of a friend of a friend. They had no idea what each other would look like or how they’d feel when they met.

There was confusion, yet a calm, nervous excitement, as they tried to find each other. Then, a young girl ran out of the crowd and ran towards Marysia. They knew they’d found each other, and hugged straight away. Lives upended in a week of war

Alexa was with her mum, but also her cat, Mitzi. She said to me: “We just need to start a new life but it’s hard.”

They had one suitcase and a small rucksack, but set off smiling, to a home that’s not their own.  

Alexa with her beloved cat. Credit: ITV News

Alexa and her mum Larisa are from Kyiv. Marysia is Polish. Their countries’ histories are intertwined, now their families are.  

Alexa said: “Now I live here and it is a very beautiful place and people are so good.”

Alexa’s brother is 20 and had to stay to fight. He volunteered and signed up to the local militia a week ago. Her father, Eugene, is helping other refugees get out of Lyviv, miles from their home, but it’s all he can think of to do to help. The last thing he told his daughter is important. 

“He told me, that everything will be ok. And not to worry about him. I am proud of him. He is doing what he can to help people. I gave him a big hug at the crossing but it was harder for Mama when we left him.” 

Larisa responded: “Yes, it was. I don’t just miss him. I feel like I have been cut in half, she says. My family is broken.”

Larisa is a photographer, but a mother first, she insisted to me. 

“Last Wednesday, was a calm, happy day. We had a lovely dinner together, we all slept in our own beds. We felt we had nothing to worry about. It was a normal day. I just want to be back together and to live in peace. If Ukraine has a Russian flag over it, that will be impossible.”

Alexa shows a picture of her with dad, Eugene, who has stayed to help other refugees. Credit: ITV News

The three women talk in Ukrainian, English, Polish, and Russian, but they get by. They make it work. Marysia said to me: "It’s very strange to know what’s happening in Ukraine. I still can’t believe what’s going on there. It’s very emotional for us. They’re our closest neighbour. On one hand the circumstances are so grave but once we met, we have a good time, we laugh.”

It is the sound of a dog barking, the kettle boiling that’s giving them comfort. Alexa showed me her new bedroom. It was cosy and warm, with a proper bed, thick blankets and her beloved cat. 

“I want to have such a friend like Marisa. I think she is very good and kind person.”

As we left, there was snow on the ground, horses playing in the fields and cockerels squawking. There can be no greater sanctuary from the bullets than here. Where, in times of darkness there is some light. 

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