Ukraine War Reporter Reveals “This is How I Crossed the Border” | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Ukraine War Reporter Reveals “This is How I Crossed the Border”

Nonfiction writer Takehide Mizutani's on-site report on the "Ukrainian War

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Ukrainian immigration office

The western sun glinted off the station platform.

It was dusk on March 29 when the train arrived at the Přemysl station in southeastern Poland. The station is about 10 km west of the Ukrainian border. I gave the address of my destination to the cab driver who was waiting for me, and we passed through the center of town to the suburbs and ended up in a residential area. In front of us stood a large one-story house with a reddish-brown triangular roof. It looks more like a private house than a place to stay. There are many similar houses around, and there are no restaurants, supermarkets, or other stores at all.

Poland’s Přemysl Station under the western sun

Where in the world is this place?

All the hotels near the station were fully booked, so I asked a Ukrainian acquaintance to help me find a place to stay. I was given only the cell phone number and address of the person who seemed to be the owner, and I came here relying on that.

Although it was an emergency situation, the bleakness of the place made me feel a bit uneasy.

When I opened the door of the one-story house, a tall woman with blonde hair was right there and said, “Hello! He is smiling. On the sofa is a little boy. He had come from the Ukraine with his Italian husband as evacuees. Soon after, her husband with a beard and moustache came out of the room. It seemed that this was the right place for us to stay.

He said, “There are no stores around here, so if you need to buy something, I can drive you to a nearby supermarket later.

I took him at his word. Rather, I had no means of transportation, so I had no choice but to rely on him.

The room I was given was a simple room with a bed, clean and well-equipped with Wi-Fi, and seemed perfectly adequate for a one-night stay. There are four rooms in total, all with shared kitchens and shared toilets and showers, making the place more of a temporary hideaway than a hotel. When I called the owner, he said, “I’ll be there later,” and never showed up. I felt the Asian-ness I had grown accustomed to in that appropriateness.

Accommodations like a hideout
Accommodation rooms were clean and had Wi-Fi access.

After a while, another foreign man, this time with a bearded moustache, returned. He, too, was Italian and a freelance photographer. He told us that he was continuing his coverage in the border town of Medica, so we immediately asked him to tell us about the situation on the ground.

The number of displaced people is much smaller than before.

There is even a surplus of food provided by volunteers.”

Since we were both in the same profession, once we started talking, it went on and on, and we became such good friends that the next day I asked him to give me a ride to the border in his rental car. The trip to the medica took about 20 minutes. When we arrived, we found the spacious land filled with tents of various aid groups.

The displaced people from Ukraine are provided with a variety of food, daily necessities, and medical assistance there. Buses came one after another to take them to their destinations.

On that day, we decided to stay overnight in the tent of the support group we had interviewed. While lying on a couch with a mat on it, the area around the tent suddenly became noisy late at night. Volunteers were hurriedly preparing cots. A little girl in a pink jumper was standing by her side. She was staring blankly at me. She must be tired. The time was 2:00 a.m. My heart tightened at the clear gaze of the girl who had crossed the border at a time when most children would have long since gone to bed and arrived here on foot.

When I awoke at 7:00 a.m., the girl was sleeping peacefully with a stuffed animal in her hands.

A beautiful blonde-haired examiner responds

I noticed something when I arrived in Medica.

While some displaced persons were coming from Ukraine to Poland, others were returning to Ukraine. As one volunteer from an aid organization explained to us

A volunteer from an aid organization explained, “They started coming back to Ukraine a few days ago. It seems that they have decided that the western part of the country is safe, but the displaced people who fled from the eastern part have not been able to return yet.

Following them, I decided to cross the border.

I walked straight down a corridor lined with tents in the direction of a sign that read “Border control” (immigration control), and arrived at the Polish immigration checkpoint. As I entered and started rolling my video camera, a woman in front of me warned me, “No videos allowed. When I spoke to her, I learned that she was a refugee from Ukraine. She had been in Poland for a month with her children and was returning temporarily to celebrate her husband’s birthday.

She passed through Polish passport control with ease. From there, we walked a few hundred meters between iron fences to the Ukrainian immigration checkpoint.

On the Ukrainian side, there were two windows. Both were manned by female inspectors in military uniforms. When I presented my passport at the window on the left, they checked my photo.

Where in Ukraine are you going?


Upon receiving my passport, I was instructed to go to the window on the right. Waiting there was a young female examiner with blonde hair and blue eyes. She has a model-like face. She looked down at my passport.

Are you a journalist?”

For a moment, I was thrilled. Was there a problem? I thought about telling him, “I’m a businessman,” but with my bulletproof helmet in my hand, he would know right away. So.


When I answered, he looked straight at me with blue eyes.

‘Photography and videotaping are not allowed in the immigration area.’

With just that information, I was released from the situation.

As we exited the screening area, there was a procession of refugees on the opposite side of the corridor heading toward Poland. Volunteers surrounded the procession, some of them smiling and clapping their hands as guitars played. Perhaps they were immersed in relief at the thought of being able to return to the safety of Poland after their long journey. After watching this harmonious scene for a while, I headed alone to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine.

( Click here for the YouTube channel where non-fiction writer Takehide Mizutani delivers his “Ukraine on-the-spot reportage” in video.)

Polish passport control. Some people were returning to Ukraine from Poland where they were evacuated.
Ukrainian immigration office
Ukrainian immigration checkpoint. There was a line of people heading to Poland.
Crossing the border from Poland into Ukraine, there were many displaced people and volunteers there as well.
  • Interview, text, and photos Takehide Mizutani, Nonfiction Writer

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