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American’s 20-hour trek out of Ukraine: ‘It’s a humanitarian crisis, a disaster’


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An American independent journalist covering the war in Ukraine described witnessing a humanitarian crisis as he embarked on a 20-hour journey to get out of the country, finding himself with no other option as Russia invaded.

“It’s a disaster,” Manny Marotta told WHD News.

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Thursday morning, Marotta “woke up to the sound of air raid sirens and the announcement on loudspeakers that bombing might commence soon.” It was then that he and another foreign journalist began looking for ways out of the country.

Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Thursday, sparking a war that officials have said already killed hundreds of people. Overnight Friday, street fighting broke out in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, where Russian troops closed in. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy refused an offer from the U.S. to ensure his evacuation, saying, “the fight is here.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, pays a visit to the front line in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, on Feb. 24, 2022.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, pays a visit to the front line in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, on Feb. 24, 2022.
(Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via WHD)

After discovering there were no trains, buses or car rental services, Marotta and his roommate “set out on foot west because we considered that to be our only option.”

Marotta captured cars lined up in Ukraine hoping to leave the country.

Marotta captured cars lined up in Ukraine hoping to leave the country.
(Manny Marotta)

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“Our first sign of trouble was that we started hitting gas stations with no gas and tons of cars parked outside,” Marotta, speaking from a hostel in southeast Poland, told WHD News.

Marotta watched cars line up outside gas stations in Ukraine.

Marotta watched cars line up outside gas stations in Ukraine.
(Manny Marotta)

Marotta, 25, said it was “tragic” watching people, young and old, abandon their vehicles, carrying everything they had with them. 

Marotta described watching Ukrainians, young and old, abandon their vehicles and carry all their possessions as they tried to leave the country.

Marotta described watching Ukrainians, young and old, abandon their vehicles and carry all their possessions as they tried to leave the country.
(Manny Marotta)

Next, Marotta described encountering Ukrainian army soldiers, who were announcing that Zelenskyy had declared men ages 18-60 be conscripted, blocking those Ukrainian men from leaving the country.

It was “terrifying” for “every 18-60-year-old man going to the front,” Marotta said. They begged. 

“Look, I have kids, please don’t make me do this,” some men pleaded. But ultimately, the men had no choice but to stay and fight a war that could “probably kill them,” Marotta told WHD News.

There were a lot of “heartfelt, emotional goodbyes. Kids crying because their dad was gone,” he said.

Marotta recounting his 20-hour trek out of Ukraine.

Marotta recounting his 20-hour trek out of Ukraine.
(WHD News Digital/Lisa Bennatan)

“Kids barely old enough to be adults, and all these old people becoming a part of the Ukrainian army all at once to try and fight the Russians, but at the cost of tearing apart families,” Marotta explained.

Marotta posted this picture on Twitter, writing, "this was my view as I crossed into Poland at 7:01 AM local time this morning. I feel that it was a welcome gift from nature. I’m so inconsolably happy to be in the EU."

Marotta posted this picture on Twitter, writing, “this was my view as I crossed into Poland at 7:01 AM local time this morning. I feel that it was a welcome gift from nature. I’m so inconsolably happy to be in the EU.”
(Manny Marotta)

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Marotta told WHD News, “The world needs to be aware of the humanitarian crisis happening in Ukraine right now. There are hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians at the border suffering.” 

Marotta posted this picture on Twitter, writing: "A little refugee waiting for a way out."

Marotta posted this picture on Twitter, writing: “A little refugee waiting for a way out.”
(Manny Marotta)

“Out in the cold, no food, water, toilet, ability to check the internet, charge phones, communicate,” Marotta continued. 

“I know that because I was doing it last night,” he said.

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