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On the Night Bus to Kyiv

Kyiv, Ukraine—After Russian attacks targeted infrastructure all across Ukraine earlier this week, damaging critical rail lines in the western part of the country, a bus bound for Kyiv was full when it departed from Warsaw an hour before midnight on Wednesday.

With the more popular trains suffering cancellations and delays as long as 11 hours, and fuel shortages making personal car travel dicey, the bus emerged as perhaps the best way to get to Ukraine from the west.

A crowd of about a hundred people formed at the platforms at Warsaw West station late Wednesday night, many destined for Lviv, Kyiv, or further east. An employee who was assisting the driver frantically checked passengers off of a list and assigned seats as we boarded. Three soldiers—one Polish and two Canadian—helped load our luggage, including a few strollers, into the storage compartment in the back of the bus, which was completely full. I asked one of the Canadian soldiers if these passengers were mostly people who had fled Ukraine during the recent invasion and were now returning, or if they were heading back to Ukraine after a longer time away. He told me it was a mix. I asked him where he was from, and he said Ontario. What was he doing here, in Warsaw? “Just trying to help,” he said.

I carried my three large bags up the steps and found there was no room in the overhead compartments. So I set two of my bags beneath my feet and stacked the other one on my lap. I had no room to move and a long trip ahead of me.

An older woman with close-cropped gray hair and gold earrings was sitting in the seat next to mine. Frigid air flowed in from the open door across the aisle. She said something to me but I didn’t understand her, and she didn’t speak English. A woman sitting behind us with her daughter, maybe 4 or 5 years old, smiled and reached up to grab a coat from the overhead compartment, handing it to the older woman, who laid it atop herself like a blanket.

In the seat in front of me, a woman in her 20s with intricately braided hair scrolled through images of bombed-out buildings on her phone. The war had seemed so far away from me that night in Warsaw, but now there it was in the palm of her hand.

Another woman boarded, and brought with her a small dog in a carrier. I watched as she sat down and paid for her ticket in cash. There were more people waiting outside, but the bus was full. I wondered if I had taken a seat from someone who was desperately trying to return to their home.

Other than the driver and his assistant, I was one of the only adult males on the bus. The rest were women, children, and teenagers. One mother sat next to her disabled son. The elderly woman next to me slept softly, occasionally snoring. I saw a stuffed animal, some sort of red lion with big blue googly eyes, dangling from the rearview mirror.

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