How far we travel in life matters far less than those we meet along the way. - Mark Twain
Have you ever met someone by happenstance walking away from the encounter grateful for the experience even though you will never see them again?
While on the train from Vienna to Budapest on Saturday, I shared a traincar with a blonde girl about my age. We shared pleasantries and a bit of eye rolling around our seat reservations not being honored since the train oversold tickets.
Little did I know, I was going to be humbled in more ways than one that day.
We talked a little bit about where we were traveling from and what we were doing in Budapest -- a little about where we live now -- a little about the weather.
She apologized for her English skills to which I replied how much better her English (fantastic) is compared to my German (non-existent). She chuckled and became a bit somber when she shared that she has lost of a lot of her English skills since she moved to Munich. At that point, I hadn't really picked up on her accent and assumed she was from Germany until she shared she is from Ukraine. She quickly said she has lived in Germany for 15 years -- she followed a German boy which she described as a 'true love story'.
Since the Russian Ukraine war commenced, she began working for the German government supporting Ukrainian refugees as they flee into Germany. Providing translation and processing refugee status paperwork, but above all being a kind, safe connection to Ukraine for families devastated by the conflict and in complete culture shock. She is helping them find housing, open a bank account, acclimate to the new culture. She was emotional talking about her work, and I was even more emotional listening. She is so passionate, despite also feeling discouraged she could not help everyone. I reminded her that she is making an impact one person at a time -- and that -- is amazing.
I soon learned that her entire family is still in Ukraine. With no consistent electricity or running water, she fears for them every day. When they are able to charge their cell phone, they will call her to give her some piece of mind. As if living through the conflict isn't scary enough, her father was drafted at 53 years old, and her mother won't even consider leaving her father or their home in Ukraine. Her father is now fighting for his home and his family -- when she tries to convince him to bring their family to Germany, he matter of factly says if every able body fled, then who would be left to save their home? Add in a younger sister still in Ukraine, her heart is so broken. My emotions are so high -- how do you reply to any of this terrifying heartbreak? Through tears, I was able to at least tell her how brave her father is and how I can tell how much her mother loves her home and her husband to stand with him.
We are about halfway through our journey now, and Hungary oversold the train even more at the first Hungarian stop. So we've officially been kicked out of the seats we were squatting in to standing room only. Thankfully, we were able to roll our eyes at each other and continue chatting and sharing stories and pictures.
Despite having been awake for over 24 hours since her journey started at midnight, her kind soul even offered the one folding train seat to my mother in law who simply couldn't keep standing for another hour. She consistently checked in on her and even stepped in when someone was invading her space.
The two and a half hour train ride flew by and finally we had arrived in Budapest. Exiting the train we were separated, and I was afraid I lost the chance to even ask her name.
As I'm departing the train, I see she waited for me to say goodbye, offering her hand to help me down the train steps and she didn't let go. I told her I was so grateful to have met her and that I would be thinking about her family and especially her dad to stay safe. She hugged me so tightly just sobbing -- from the outside looking in, you'd think we were old friends, not complete strangers embracing so long on a train platform. She had business in Budapest. We were meeting a friend. So we parted ways to never see each other again.
The Ukrainian conflict can feel so far away and the inconveniences we are feeling from it ( increased heating costs, interrupted trade, etc) are nothing compared to Anichka's family.
Her father fighting to protect his family and home.
Her mother trying to provide a normal life for her younger sister amongst the conflict.
Anichka seeing everything from afar feeling so torn between the life she has built in Germany to her heart beating for Ukraine.
At the beginning of the conflict, we were in a Spanish train station and witnessed a number of people who had just fled from Ukraine to safety. Most of them had nothing in their hands as they walked off the train into the Red Cross booth in the middle of the station. Each person was handed a bag of food, toiletries, clothes and a blanket. I will never forget making eye contact with a man about my age as he was stepping off the train -- a mix of fear and sadness and relief. He was safe now.
I can only hope that our brief time together provided Anichka a little comfort during this completely unnecessary conflict that has changed the course of her life. A conflict that has changed her family dynamic and torn the home she loves apart.
I know that I will never forget her - my only regret is not being able to stay in touch and knowing when this conflict comes to an end, that her family is safe.
For anyone reading this far, I ask that you keep Anichka's story close, and whatever power at be you believe in, we plead for their safety and their freedom and ultimately their peace.