In August, we went to Ukraine for the fourth time since the war began with the entire trip planned and coordinated by Ukrainian volunteers. They traveled with us. Kept us safe. The first night one drove us six hours from the airport in Krakow, Poland across the border to Ternopil. Another rode the night train with us from Kyiv to Odesa. In Odesa, 4 volunteers met us at the train station at 6:30 am, and for the next four days drove us to orphanages, foster homes, displaced family centers, and humanitarian projects.
Before heading to Romania, we had to make an 11-hour trek from Odesa to Chernivtsi and felt it was simply too much for a volunteer. So, we decided to hire a driver instead. But a last-minute cancelation landed us in the car of a total stranger, found through a rideshare group on Facebook. Virtual hitchhiking in Ukraine, what could possibly go wrong?
Our driver, Dima, was a reporter headed home from Mykolaiv. He spoke little English, and we knew even less Ukrainian, but with help from a smart phone translator, we talked about the war, our jobs, and our families. The conversation faded and as we quietly sped down the dark roads, past barricades, through checkpoints and blacked out cities. I thought of all the “ordinary Ukrainians” I have met over the past 18 months. Courageous people who refuse to lose their humanity as they fight a brutal war just to remain free. People without jobs who insist on paying for our meals from their own pockets because we are “their guests.”
Dima dropped us off at our hotel just before midnight, and we offered one last time to help pay for the expensive gas. The only acceptable form of payment was an embrace.