No ordinary drive

May 22, 2022

Ukraine

They [had] to really leave everything behind.

David Mulica will not soon forget his 2022 spring break road trip. His destination was not a beach, but a refugee camp. Its prompt was not vacation, but war.

Mulica, a dual citizen of the U.S. and the Czech Republic, is a political science graduate student at Charles University in Prague. He lives there with his longtime girlfriend, Valeriya Grechko. She is Ukrainian with family across both sides of the prewar line of control in the country’s Donbas region, which Russian-allied separatists seized in 2014.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Mulica was thousands of miles from Prague — spending a semester abroad at Richmond. He went home for spring break and, it turned out, a road trip after Grechko’s mother made the difficult decision to flee her home with Grechko’s younger brother and grandmother. 

The decision to go “meant they have to leave her husband behind because he’s under 60 years old, and he cannot leave the country,” Mulica said. It also meant “they would have to leave their home, their jobs. They would have to really leave everything behind,” but the fighting had been getting closer and closer.

The trio took an evacuation train from their city, Kramatorsk, to Lviv in western Ukraine, becoming some of the 40% of all Ukrainians who had been driven from their homes by mid-March. From Lviv, they boarded a bus that dropped them off at the Polish border, adding them to the more than 2 million Ukrainians who had fled the country by then.

Mulica and Grechko made the eight-hour drive from Prague to meet them at the refugee camp, arriving around midnight. On the overnight drive back to Prague, Grechko’s family members “mostly slept from exhaustion,” Mulica said. “When we picked them up, they’d already been traveling for almost 36 hours.”