"There's a pain in the separation.":
Matt Thacker, a Charlotte native who has lived in Ukraine with his wife for more than a decade has now safely escaped the country into Poland after the Russian invasion. Thacker said the road to cross the border was anything but easy.
"It's just absolute chaos," Thacker exclaimed. "Everywhere in the country's got lines and sort of days of waiting periods."
Thacker said as thousands are fleeing Ukraine, women and children are being prioritized. This means Ukrainian men are not allowed to cross over with their families. So Ukrainian fathers will drive up as far as they can, drop off their families and then cut back.
"At the borders, you end up seeing moms with kids. People bringing as much as they could, lots of pets," Thacker said. "But it's chaos. There's just a lot going on."
Describing the situation at the border, Thacker said there's a pain in the separation but not a lot of anger.
"The men see it as sort of their duty," Thacker said. "They're heartbroken and the kids can't understand it."
Thacker describes the sense of pride among the Ukrainian men and said many of them will go back to really dangerous situations, even at the protest of their wives, because they see it as an obligation and their duty.
"It's the survival of their country," Thacker said. "There's a lot of tears a lot of sadness."
Some sort of cosmic luck:
Matt Thacker said he was able to safely cross the border into Poland by some sort of "cosmic luck."
He said the Israeli tech company he works for was moving Israeli people out of the country. So they put him down as Israeli and he was able to escape through that avenue.
Thacker said his manager started the efforts with just his organization but said it later turned into a humanitarian effort.
"So he wasn't just taking Israelis, but there was a Nigerian who was with us," Thacker recalled.
Thacker said his group was able to drive up as close as they could to the border and then walk the rest of the way. It was about a mile-and-a-half walk.
Once they got to the border, Thacker said they had to separate. While the separation was brief, Thacker said it still made him nervous. So the children and mothers went first and then the women and then the men.
Seeking refuge in Poland:
Now taking shelter in Poland, Thacker said it's weird being in a social situation where lives are just carrying on normally. Thacker said he's still carrying the stress from living in Ukraine.
"I hear a plane and I kind of freak out," Thacker recalled. "Someone was dragging a dumpster and it sounded like a distant bombing."
Thacker said the Polish people have been absolutely incredible.
"I have to say, like my hearts out to everyone in Poland," Thacker said. "just thank you so much."
In Poland, they have buses set up and people are opening up their homes to refugees. Thacker said the refugee center is only six kilometers away from the border. There they will have cots, hot tea and blankets for the refugees. They can stay there for a little while until eventually they're bused to population centers where they have refugee checkpoints to try and get people settled elsewhere.
Happy Birthday, Matt:
"Being an American kid of the '80s, you never think 'oh one day I'm going to be a Ukrainian refugee,'" Thacker said.
Thacker was on the phone with his mom explaining his ordeal when she reminded him that he's doing all of this on his birthday.
"And I was like oh, tomorrow is my birthday. Just never crossed my mind," he said.
Thacker celebrated his birthday getting his refugee status coming to Poland. He said he's not even focused on his birthday at this point, but the amazing spirit of the Polish people and the incredible things that are happening.
Russian army is at a standstill:
Thacker, discussing the war in Ukraine explained how the Russian military is at a bit of a standstill at the moment. Thacker said Russia thought they would be able to come in and "steamroll the Ukrainians." And that did not happen.
"They're sort of failing on a tremendous level," Thacker explained. "I think we're going to see a horrific escalation of violence."
Thacker said right now, Russia is using a lot of conventional weaponry like targeted bombing systems. Thacker described these forms of weaponry are not intensely powerful. But said they're going to start using "really, really scary stuff."
"So they've got a bomb that sort of depletes oxygen in the area and creates massive explosions," Thacker said. "They've got incendiary bombs that are illegal."
Resilience of the Ukrainians:
Thacker said despite the horrific things that are happening right now, the Ukrainians have an immense sense of pride.
Thacker talked about one of his friends back in Ukraine, a dentist, who wants to fight on the front lines. He told Thacker his medical knowledge would be useful for those in need.
Thacker said this is just one example of thousands within the country. He said you can see elderly women making Molotov cocktails. You see children sitting next to their grandmothers weaving camouflage nets. You see people go filling sandbags with sand, people welding Dragon's Teeth to stop tanks, building forts.
"Everywhere you go you can see people chipping in where they can," Thacker said. " There's not the sense of hopelessness, there's anger and resolve."
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