Escaping the violence
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears the end of its first week, Ukraine residents continue to flee, hoping they can find refuge in neighboring countries. One of the hundreds of thousands who have made it to safety is former poker pro Eugene Katchalov, who made it to Hungary with his wife and some friends over the weekend.
Katchalov detailed his trek on Twitter, the entire time not certain that they would make it. They had plans, but those plans often had to be altered on the fly as the situation across the country changed hour to hour. Aside from potentially meeting with violence, one of Katchalov’s main concerns was if he himself would be permitted to leave Ukraine. A state of emergency declaration required all men 18-60 to stay in the country in case they are needed to help fight.
Katchalov explained to those who asked that he was born in Ukraine, but moved to the United States when he was a child. He moved back to Ukraine about five years ago and “absolutely fell in love with the country.” He is a US citizen with a US passport, so he was hopeful that he would be permitted to leave.
“I’m no hero,” he wrote. “I simply wanted to use my following to shed light on the situation in real time and continue telling stories of our friends and family who are still there fighting desperately to protect the only home they know.”
He later tweeted, referring to everyone who stayed in Ukraine, whether voluntarily or not, “I’m truly mesmerized with how many locals are standing up to this. Absolute heroes.”
Long road ahead
Katchalov and his wife set out from a small town outside of Kyiv, the nation’s capital (they live in Kyiv, which is in north-central Ukraine) on Thursday morning. Their goal was to get to Lviv in the west and then cross the border into Poland.
His party took two cars and brought an extra gas can. They also heard about possible bandits posing as police, so they divided up their cash. Overall, it sounded like it wasn’t too horrible of a trip, all things considered, just very long and I’m sure nerve wracking, never knowing if you’ll be bombed or encounter Russian troops.
They made pretty good time for about 12 hours or so, but then ran into massive traffic. Their plan to get to Lviv also had to be tossed, as it was closed off. The recommended entries to Poland for US citizens were also closed. As such, Katchalov detoured to Hungary.
From the time Katchalov tweeted that the ETA to Hungary was three hours to the time he actually crossed the border was about 15 hours. The entire drive was around two days.
Safe, but family on his mind
Though Katchalov and his wife are safe, he is still concerned about his wife’s family, who were in Kharkiv, one of the most heavily-targeted cities in the east by the Russian border. Their apartment building was almost hit by a missile/bomb, which fortunately did not explode and embedded itself into the street 50 meters from where they were hiding:
His sister-in-law also relayed a story of a probable Russian saboteur who entered their basement looking for someone specific. Everyone hiding there sniffed the faker out pretty easily and gave him no information. They then decided to move elsewhere.
On Tuesday, March 1, his wife’s family and some friends finally left Kharkiv, trying to travel east all the way across the country, which is expected to take three days. As of earlier today, they were still safe, but unsure if they were going to be able to make it to the place they were planning on staying for the night or if they will have to make other arrangements.
Eugene Katchalov is now using his social media following – in addition to being the winningest live tournament player in Ukraine history, he is also co-founder of the esports organization Qlash – to connect Ukrainian refugees with people in Europe who are opening up their homes.
Image credit: World Poker Tour via Flickr