Runner — The survival
The memories are fresh. The nights and days never seemed to end. The snow was more of a friend when the sun left me.
Five days that are gone made a huge impact. counting the steps, I could tell you about it but I don't even remember what happened to me on the 4th day. I was in and out of consciousness. What is a dream and what is reality? Seeing faces and Ghosts. Talking to myself and smacking someone else.
Even in the midst of all that, I wanted to go to church.
It has been more than a month, a life-changing, life-altering, Gun in your face, Running away from the army and nothing to eat. It's just the surface level I can talk about because I'm still not ready to talk about it but I will try to let it all out because I want to sleep at night.
It was February and I just landed in Ukraine. To make a better life. I was there just for 10 days and getting my papers done and then, One fine day as I and my friend were asleep we hear a sound from afar and we knew it was not an ordinary boom, it was Russia, invading Ukraine. We decided to wait it out because we thought we knew better and that the war would be over.
But then, there was another boom. Louder than before. The army was coming close. But then it was quiet for almost 4 hours. We were just packing in case anything happens. And then, BOOM! the loudest ever, the building shakes, windows shivering and people screaming. Smoke coming from not so far and we had nowhere to go.
Hearing the fighter jets and drones overhead and running inside the building. Somehow we managed and found a ride for five of us in a small car with two other people. We left from Kyiv to Lviv. Cramped and out of money, well almost out of it. few snacks and some water, just happy that we are going to the border so we could go to Poland and go home. But we had no idea what was waiting for us as we reach.
It took us almost around 22 hours to reach Lviv. And then we were back to square one. As the day was coming to an end, we had to find a ride that’d take us to the Poland border.
But, the luck, She didn’t want us. so after a lot of tires, we decided to find a place to stay for a night and charge our phones. But as we were Indians, we were not invited anywhere. Nowhere, nada, no rooms, Fuck off.
So, the only place we could go and sleep was at the subway or the station. OR to be Brutally honest, A place without racially discriminated or without the army. As we were looking for a taxi at midnight because the people with me were not ready to walk for 20 minutes, We found a ride and me being me asked the driver if he could let us through the border because simultaneously the Russian army was coming to Lviv. They had captured Kyiv and so I asked the driver if he can take us to the border. And he was ready. His name was Sergio but he insists on calling him, Sergi.
It was supposed to be a 2-hour journey to the border. We were just halfway there and we saw a regiment of army and police officers making a blockade and a diversion.
Sergi, our driver was smart, a rule-breaker and a fast driver. Which was exactly needed then. As we could see cars lined up like we were gonna get a free meal and a fuck after. Camping out at night. Sergi didn't want to wait so he started driving to the other side of the road and after a few minutes, we could see Some Ukrainians making a blockade by putting themselves on the road.
Unfortunately, Sergi had to leave us. halfway there. But as I said the diversion and the long road.
We had no choice but to walk to the border, can’t go back now, Russia was already in Lviv. So, we go. We go ahead, in the unknown at night, with bags and our legs. Thinking we will reach if we keep on walking. As the night stood still, all we could hear were the car and the luggage wheels. It was getting cold, colder and it was -4, People with me started to get restless and cold and wanted to go back or sleep on the road. I didn’t want to do any of it, I just wanted to walk and walk until I reached. I was singing Boulevard of broken dreams and many songs in my head, just to get by.
But we all kept walking. we saw people throwing their luggage because the road was way too long and more in favour of their people. This is understandable now but at that time I never had time to look into it because I was so focused on getting ahead.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. Shit scared. I saw a missile passing overhead and I almost thought I will be done by the sun comes to shine. people I was with, really wanted to take some rest and so we came near a small village with just one supermarket, which was closed. so we sat there for a while and everyone was asleep except me because I wanted to move ahead. I tried to sleep but was up in 10 minutes. My mind works very differently than most people. And I don’t say it with pride, it’s just the way it is. and only because of it, I am sad most of the time, even in times of happiness. Most of the time I don't feel anything. Weirdly, then, I felt alive and just wanted to go. Of course, I didn’t leave my people all by themselves.
Although, I would've been the one who'd be alone but in reality, I’d be free and they’d be alone. so much for being a man in these times.
Forget about being a man, My mind is gonna be the death of me.
Anyway, they slept for a while and I was minding the bags. because I couldn’t sleep. I was always looking out for new stuff to make me feel something.
But then, I woke them up and told them to walk because we have no idea when we will reach. And off we go. The night is gone. You could see the sun from afar behind the clouds. Small houses where you’d find god’s greatest creation. Dogs. A stretch of a field and a huge graveyard. Rusty cross, shining bright because it snowed last night. What a beauty.
We stopped and had something to eat. most of us were tired. we just helped each other out. That’s all we could've done at that time. Started walking again. As much as the nature was beautiful in the small village in some country where I was there for the first time but under different circumstances. We crossed the village and there it was again a long road with cars lined up and people having breakfast. Nature was still good but we could see the long long road ahead.
Break after a break. kilometre after kilometer. snack after other we kept moving forward.
Sun was gone before 4 and it was getting dark. The first checkpoint was filled with Indians, Nigerians, Ukrainians, Pakistan, Palestine, and many more. But for some reason, the army wasn't letting us all through. a certain outrage and internet viral tactics were going on and tweet this and that and all that. we also did our bit. But somehow my tweets always get deleted if it's about something related to the government so I won’t even talk about them.
It was night and cold and we All were at the first checkpoint. Not even allowed to make a fireplace. We used our bags to cover us and we used clothes from the bags which were on the road and tried to sleep. when you closed your eyes you’d hear the army shouting, people speaking gibberish and the tingling of teeth. A few hours passed and the line started to move, and people started to move. There was cutting in lines, shouting, pushing and shoving and back to square one. eventually, by the next day noon, we passed the first checkpoint. Some young boys in the army were there. Some old who were kind.
There we found a gas station so we stopped there to charge our phones. My laptop was out because I had to charge my portable charger and the portable charger was out of battery because it was cold I found out that the battery goes faster if it’s cold outside. So without using the phone much, the battery was going.
Maybe we were there for 15–20 minutes and the army came again and told us to go ahead because if we go ahead they’ll let the other people go. They didn’t want much crowd. We started walking again and we were reaching the second checkpoint earlier than we thought. And there it was. People came back while we were reaching the checkpoint. And we all were just wondering. And my goal was to move ahead. I wasn’t talking to get any other opinions on this situation because we all, all of us were in this place for the first time. And the funny part was there were two different lines. One was for Ukrainian and the other was for people from another country. and in that, Indians and Nigeriens and people from other countries were making lines. And there it was, pushing and shoving and shouting and crying and all. I also had one incident with an Indian girl and when I was right she played the woman card. Which was funny and I laughed right there and then because people around me knew who was at fault.
And the day was done we were right there sitting, trying to sleep and then we all had different cast and then we were all Indians and there again, there was a division of states. We Indians will be the death of us. We think we know all and we should go first and we can’t handle the pressure and all that jazz.
Some took the power into their hands and for all the wrong reasons and then we had more division. Caste and sub caste. And I was just there shanking my head but holding firm with my 4 other friends. In the line, while the push and till the punch which landed. It was chaos. And there goes another night. There goes another day.
It's night now. We haven't moved and everyone is getting crazy and anxious and breakdowns. people collapsing and getting beaten up. Finally, we moved and it started. The glass between dream and reality was gone for a long time. I was not me. I was maybe more me than ever before. When did I even sleep? When was I awake? How much of this all was real? Was the man with the turban even real?
We all were starved by 4th day had no water and hadn't even slept. So I was in and out of reality for a long time. I don’t remember anything of it because I don’t know if any of it was real. The time when I was coming into my consciousness was while I was pushed and maybe I was out of my hallucination because I was on the ground that’s where I really knew it was real.
I was all alone. None of my friends was to be found. and I was thrown out of the line twice by My own countrymen Indians. out of the line. and I was stranded and the thoughts going on n my head was just two. 1 I could just make a run for the door or I could just sneak in the bus which was going to Poland in both cases the result was me taking a bullet. And I needed to take a piss.
running here and there I found an empty water bottle and I just did it. the bottle was full and I had still some of it in the tank. So, I found a new empty bottle and I did it again and I was good then.
After some thinking, I concluded that I had to ask for some help. So I was just looking at everybody. if anyone looks at me so I could just go and talk. My eyes met with one Palestinian guy. I told him about my situation and he decided to help me.
A man of my colour in a different country’s line was quite unusual. But then again, nothing ever easy comes without some push. I encountered an Indian man with a Ukrainian passport who was in a different line and he started throwing fits at me and pushing me and all and I was like ‘here we go’ But the Palestinian guy came to the rescue and told that dude to fuck off and not bother me.
So as I was moving forward in the line and the day had just begun. There was a change in shift and guards and army men were just having fun and talking and I was the first in line.
Right there was the gate and I had to wait for more than 1 hour and 30 minutes. I had nothing else to do that counted the time. So yeah, I did that to keep my mind occupied. and also asked for ciggies and water. I was coming back.
Gates opened, I started walking and there was a light and just a few steps ahead there was a long line of people and I could just see Indians and Nigerians. and one line turned into 2 and 3 and then 4 and there it was. Chaos.
And time wasn't waiting for anyone. All of us faced discrimination.
Man, the funny thing about time is it waits for no one but if you’re on a lookout you’ll see when to put the hammer on the nail and shout ‘Nailed it!’
We were moving finally, after every 15 minutes and that was good to see. And I saw my friends when we were just about to reach and there were smiles and a sigh of relief from everyone because they were looking for me for 2 days and I had no battery to let them know I was alright. They gave me some chocolates and an energy drink. we crossed the first gate of the last checkpoint and we could see the Poland border right beside us.
We formed a line and again the same story.
When you can see the destination you become a little restless, especially when your last few have been a literal hell on earth. and let me tell you. it’s not a fun place to be in an actual war.
We were standing in the line and we wanted to just get out of it. and this time people from all over the country were all together but because of the war, Ukrainians were the priority. Which is understandable now. Then, it was not. One of our friends already crossed the border. because somebody collapsed and “Ambulancia Ambulancia!” and all that jazz.
So after a lot of waiting in the line and people being restless and angry, I had to take the reigns. I was making everyone calm and telling them we are all together and we should help each other and all that stuff that is required to control a crowd. But after a few hours passed and we stooped moving and there it was, everyone knew if you collapse you’ll be taken to Poland faster than the rest. Long behold, everyone started to collapse and the jig was up.
People who collapsed or pretend to were not taken to Poland but were kept near the gate. OH my sweet Lord, what a sight!
AS much as I tried to calm Indians down they were ready to fight and then there was it again, division of cast. But as soon as the Nigerians were out for a fight. They faced the most discrimination of all. Which is uncalled for any time of the day.
So fists were flying, some were landing, some were reciprocated and it was war in war. Oh, inception.
Then there came the army from both sides. Luckily we were just at the gate. And they were handpicking people to come to the other side of the border. Luck, she was coming back. We all 4 were picked up at the same time and we were at the border.
While we were in the line, we saw the Ukrainian army on the other side All red and angry and they started beating everyone who was still at the Ukraine border.
I was relieved and I felt bad for everyone. But I turned a blind eye at that time because I sometimes feel a little bit too much and I didn’t want to then because there was another thing waiting for us.
And there we were, waiting for the border patrol to call us in one after another. There were two lines and one of the lines was moving fast and we were not in the line which was moving fast. It must be true. Like Frank Sinatra’s song goes “Luck be a lady”. One of my friends was called in and they were putting stuff in his mouth and checking him thoroughly. But eventually, we all were called and were let go.
No idea what to do next when we reached Poland.
It was already night, somewhere around 1 in the morning and it was cold. I could see people surrounding one person. As I went there, one person was giving out sim cards. I took two sim cards one for me and another just for a backup.
As you remember, one of the guys from our group was already out. I was in contact with him and he said that there will be a few people in a tent of sorts with an Indian flag-waving. never I had been so happier in my life.
Had some biscuits and water and we were ready to go ahead. A Bus was waiting for us to take us to a hotel because Indian Embassy and Poland embassy had an agreement of sorts. As soon as we reach the bus we were gassed out and slept. the bus didn’t move for 2 hours and we were still sleeping. It took us just 40 minutes to reach.
Hotel Presidente or in Poland it’s called hotel Pracowinczy, there’s were all Indian got the shelter. We got to sleep on beds and have food to eat. But we were so tired we just went to sleep.
It was morning and my God, a Lot of Indians enrolled their names and the passport numbers so they could get the flight back home. some of them were happy some were waiting for their friends to arrive and some just to go the fuck back to India.
And yes, It’s Indians all around and damn, There’s already partition between north and south Indians. I mean even in these times. They want to do that shit. I don’t know what’s the idea behind it. because with me, it’s never about where you’re from but the things you do.
Discrimination even in times like these. The best example I could give is when the time came to take us to the airport. The priority was North Indians. They skip almost 14 names that sounded South Indians. And there was an outrage and it was Chaos again. We let that day go because nobody went to the airport so it was no point to give your name and passport number. And I really wanted some peace of mind because I hadn't shat in 6 days now and it was fucking me up. I sat on the toilet and laid out a long brown lump of turd. Like a log, it wouldn't flush. I was in here for almost 40 minutes and then it was gone. Then I went for a shower and came to know that somebody had puked in the shower and it was blocked. I was having second thoughts but fuck it I need some shower. So I stood outside the shower and washed my face and head and all. Never in my life, I’d thought id do a thing like this.
Then came the second day and it was a bit more organised without the division of the caste or place. and everyone was going. five of us didn’t give out the name because we needed to sleep much but as the day was going and people as well 3 were up to their seats and getting restless so they went and gave their names. They just wanted to go home. All of them were broken, beaten, destroyed and I wouldn't let anybody have the satisfaction of seeing me like that. I decided to stay and see what happens.
Ukraine was not my destination I was just there for a while until I got to Sweden. I am so obsessed to make a quality life for myself and the people I love, I’m like a horse in a race with blinders who just want to ahead. For a moment I wanted to go back. But I am surrounded by amazing friends and family who were worried about me but still knew me more than I do. and they helped me to see who I am. So I just decided to go ahead. I told one of my friends that I was going ahead to Portugal and making a life there. He said he’ll also come with me. 3 of my friends were boarding the bus and going to the airport. One of them told me that I should not ask for his help anymore. I didn’t take much notice of it because people say and do things when they are destroyed. I wished them well and now it was time to wait.
I had an agent who was doing all the required things needed for me to go to Portugal because as much as I do things that are considered illegal in the eyes of law, I want to do this one legally. I was starting a new life in a country that was never in my plan. But God, he works very differently, he’ll now going to give what you want because he will give you what is best for you.
But before that, we had to run from the hotel and as the days passed the security was getting tighter and tighter. and we had to do some manoeuvres to get out of there. I will not go into the details because those are not for you to know and for me to keep. because of the people involved. but we were able to get out of the hotel and walked 3 kilometres to a new place booked by the agent. stayed there for a day and then we had to go find a new place. We were homeless for a significant amount of hours. It was snowing but the place looked good and there was no war and I didn't mind being homeless for a while. Finally, we got a room for 3 days and the agents started working on making the tickets and routes and all.
We were taking a bus from Portugal to Poland. It’s a long journey with bus changing. So the agent got us tickets up till Paris and we had to stay there for a day. Had never seen Europe in my life and in a span of a week I saw Poland, Germany, France, Spain and there I was, in Portugal.
My feeling at that time was not happy because the days in Ukraine and the war made me realise to breathe in every moment and live it as much as you can, not take anything for granted and you are not bigger than anyone. But have faith in the God above and in your dreams. Don’t be focused on the end goal. Everything will happen to you in your own time you can’t push time. just go with it and remember to breathe.
I saw a video on Instagram where Morgan Freeman remembered a poem. It goes like this.
“Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever god that may be for my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of fate, my head is bloody but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears looms but the shadow of the shade, And yet the menace of the years finds and shall find me unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, nor punishments charged the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”