Canadian English teacher hitchhikes 800 kilometres to escape Ukraine
A Canadian English teacher has made it home to the Ottawa region after travelling about 800 kilometres to escape Ukraine.
Brian Blair is one of the two million people estimated to have fled Ukraine during the invasion of Russian forces.
Blair, who has taught English in Ukraine since 2013, said he woke up to the sounds of bombs in the distance and knew he had to leave. He left his life in a Ukrainian village with a single duffel bag, posting photos to social media in case anyone spotted him on the way and could offer help.
Blair arrived at the Ottawa train station Sunday night. Although he said he was grateful to be greeted and embraced by friends, he was also plagued with guilt remembering people he left behind.
"A lot of my friends couldn’t escape. They have to stay," he said. "And that’s really quite difficult that they can’t leave, and they have to sit there and watch their city get destroyed."
Blair said he travelled about 800 kilometres to leave Ukraine, a journey that saw him hopping between cities and villages, hitchhiking for rides, and walking. He acknowledged he wasn’t sure he would make it.
"I said to myself—I said this out loud—'I may not get out of this, but I’m 48 years old. I’ve had a pretty good life. I’ve travelled. I’ve seen a lot of things, right?' I said, 'I may not get out of this alive. … It’s possible I could die.'"
The Russian invasion has caused a humanitarian crisis, with long-range missiles causing widespread damage and leaving hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians with no heat, water, electricity and limited means of escape.
A Red Cross official called scenes in the port city of Mariupol "absolutely apocalyptic" on Monday.
Blair’s journey included a long wait at the border trying to get into Poland. Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave the country. But Blair said he held his Canadian passport in his hand when approaching border officials, which helped him.
"A Polish soldier looked at me and he looked at my passport and he looked again and then he said to me 'Are you from Canada?' And I said 'Yes, I'm from Canada.' And then he said something in Polish to another soldier and the soldier came over and said 'Are you alone?' And he looked at my passport and I said 'Yes, I'm by myself.' And they said 'OK, you can come in.'"