A fleet of volunteer bus drivers is helping people flee eastern Ukraine


“The number is increasing every day. These are ordinary people, coming from all over Ukraine, who just want to help.”

People wait to board a bus during their evacuation, with the Soviet MiG-17 fighter jet memorial in the background, in Krematoresk, Ukraine, Saturday, April 9. Andrey Andrienko / AP Photo

Two days after a Russian missile attack at a train station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk killed more than 50 people, volunteer drivers in the Donetsk region came forward to help residents looking to escape from the Russian military before an expected attack. Huh.

“We don’t have much time,” said Yaroslav Boyko, who is from Kramatorsk. that head Everything will be okayA Ukrainian aid organization that has been working to evacuate people from Donetsk since the start of the Russian invasion.

As Russia continued to gather forces near eastern Ukraine over the weekend and attacked residential areas on Sunday, thousands of civilians fled eastern and southern Ukraine at the insistence of local officials, who have warned people to avoid there’s still time.

“In my estimation, the Donetsk region can be besieged in three to four days,” Boyko said. “We need to make sure everyone who wants to leave can get out.”

Boyko, 40, said he lost one of his volunteers, Roman Sementsov, in the Kramatorsk attack. one in facebook post fridayHe praised Sementov for helping thousands of people find safety.

Boyko said he believed Russia deliberately targeted the station, as it had served as an evacuation center since the start of the invasion. But the casualties could have been much higher, he said, adding that several trains were canceled on the day of the attack because railways had been damaged by a Russian missile attack the night before.

“It was a happy coincidence that they weren’t working properly,” he said. Two train stations are still operational in the Donetsk region – in the cities of Sloviansk and Pokrovsk – but residents have been wary of gathering at the stations since the attack, he said.

Since Friday, Boyko said it has been flooded with calls from volunteers and people hoping to help with the evacuation. He estimated that on Sunday he had received about 70 requests from drivers, who would be ready to shut down on Monday.

“The numbers are increasing every day,” he said. “These are ordinary people, coming from all over Ukraine, who just want to help.”

The volunteer fleet consists of at least 400 vehicles – including city buses and private vans – driven by approximately 1,000 volunteer drivers, who fan out daily to Donetsk’s towns and villages to retrieve passengers.

“We are doing everything now to avoid mass casualties,” he said, noting that organizers have redrawn evacuation routes to prevent large groups from gathering in open spaces.

For security reasons, passengers must contact volunteers directly to book tickets and are not given a pickup location or directions until two hours before departure. Local authorities have also been instructed not to advertise bus routes or schedules on social media long before departure.

“We can see another Mariupol here,” Boyko said, referring to the southern city, which has been besieged and bombed by Russian forces for weeks. “We are hoping that our armed forces can hold on to their positions, but they are more than numbers.”

This article originally appeared in the new York Times,

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