Good morning Romania … .

I check my phone to see what day it is. The hours and days confuse me; life has been turned upside, as if it began spinning and landed on the wrong side.

I spoke to my daughter Fradi after midnight yesterday. I had to call her. I know the children are worried. They too are living this situation, they are somehow within it, and I don’t know what images they are seeing and who is there to hug them when something scares them, so the least I can do is call.

The hours after midnight are my time. I have always been a night owl, and ever since my children were born I’ve always waited for the deep hours of the night. When all are asleep, I have my quiet and some time to connect with myself and my essence.

The sound of silence … that was what I really liked back in Lugansk, sitting in my beloved kitchen late at night and writing. For some reason, the dark outside and the artificial lighting within the house really inspired me to write. My best articles were born under such conditions, when there was no noise to constrict or confuse my thoughts.

Last night was different, though. I spoke to Fradi with my eyes closed. I told her that should she catch me rambling, it probably meant I had fallen asleep for a minute or two … . Despite my fatigue I had to hear her voice, to know she was alright or at least close to OK. I wanted her to know I was alright as well. Exhausted but fine. I needed her and Chaya, Yossi and Mendy to hear their mother was okay. To hear real live regards from me, not only a WhatsApp message or photos.

Then… I fell fast asleep.

I woke up before dawn and tried to figure out where I was, whether the bedsheets were clean and why it was that we had all fallen asleep with our clothes on again.

Perhaps this is what people mean when they refer to refugees … .

Now I can no longer fall asleep. I am neither tense nor afraid. It’s not at all like Sunday night, when we heard the sirens even in Chernivtsi.

On Sunday we still thought we would stay there for a few days. The city was relatively quiet and calm, far from Kieyiv and out of the way. But Shalom felt some disquiet. There too they’d announced a curfew from 10 p.m. until morning, and when we’d stepped out for a walk at six in the evening the streets were deserted. That’s how it had started back in Lugansk, bit by bit until the tsunami of war had engulfed us and washed our lives away.

We’d gone to sleep while still debating whether to leave Ukraine or not. We had already left our home without knowing when we would be back, so it would make sense to now leave Ukraine for safety reasons. But there is something about staying under Ukrainian skies, hearing the language spoken on the streets, and feeling that you are still here with your people.

Maybe there’s some self-deception involved as well, thinking we’d be able to go home soon…. Staying with the many community members who were still in the country also gave us a sense of connection, although we could provide them with the same aid from across the border, perhaps under less tense circumstances.

We’d gone to sleep unsure and woken up with a clear decision: we are leaving. We hadn’t exactly made the decision on our own. There was the siren after midnight. I was working on the computer, trying to complete my weekly tasks. Shalom had fallen asleep along with the kids. We had not been expecting a siren in Chernivtsi… we grabbed the kids and went down four floors to the hotel spa. Not to swim or get a massage. But to sit on the floor and try to catch our breath in that damp space. Our eyes spoke volumes; in truth, the kids had asked to leave already the evening before. They’d overheard an adult conversation about supplies of weapons from Europe to Ukraine passing through this area, thus rendering it ripe for attack. That was all they needed to hear ….

And so, we got organized and decided we would leave with a smile. Thank G‑d we had a large vehicle that could contain all of us as well as our bags. When I’d packed I’d told Shalom that I was bringing our summer clothes too, no half measures. I remember that when we left Lugansk we only took a few suitcases, enough clothes to last two or three weeks. That’s what we thought back then. The truth is we barely managed to get anything else out of our house after that.

This time I’d resolved to be organized. Experience makes us stronger, or at least more prepared. So if we’d end up in Israel, or even Africa, we’d have sandals… and if we’d end up back in Kiev soon, please G‑d, I would have lugged an extra suitcase for no reason….

We left without knowing where we were going. I asked Shalom where we were headed, and while on the move we checked which border crossings had shorter wait times, which would have us wait fewer hours or even days, and so we drove.

We arrived at the border pretty quickly but encountered hundreds of cars trying to escape the country. We waited for hours until Shalom obtained a pass for the car and we crossed into Moldova. Our GPS wasn’t working and we didn’t know where to go next. We drove a few kilometers, then stopped to get our bearings lest we end up back in Ukraine or who knew where else.

One of the drivers behind us must have realized we were lost because he signaled us to stop. “Are you going to Romania?” he asked. The driver had read our minds. He told us to follow him, and within minutes we arrived at another line, long and snaking. This was the border crossing from Moldova to Romania.

The Romanians have plenty of time, they’re in no rush and are apparently not used to this amount of traffic. The border guards were milling about, coming and going, checking papers, and asking questions at leisure.

In the car with us was Sveta, a refugee we’d collected near the Moldovan border. She planned to reach Poland but had to cross into Romania first, so she rode along with us, scared and alone. Thinking about Sveta, it suddenly hit me… I have family. We have family, and not just any family, but the most warm and loving one. We are not alone. We strengthen each other, cry together and encourage one another. Many others are enduring this crisis all on their own….

My friend Ula, the Russian-language teacher who’d helped me polish my Russian over the past two years, is alone. She has one son who is not in Ukraine, and that’s it. Almost. When the war began, she left Kiev for another town in the district where friends of hers had a private home with a relatively safe bunker. However, when the Russian forces were approaching Kiev, she realized it was no longer safe and escaped towards the West.

I spoke to her yesterday, I asked her where she was. “I’m in Poland, on my way to Germany and then Israel.” Poland? How did she get there? It turned out the line was so long at the Polish border, that Ula resolved to cross it on foot, walking seven kilometers with all her belongings until she reached the other side. Once across the border, she pushed her way into a crowded train car… alone. Just Ula and her luggage.

I realize what a precious asset family is, what strength it gives in times of war. It’s so important to invest in it and build it up with endless love during peacetime…

We crossed this border as well. The children were hungry. That’s how it is when you don't want to stop along the way, before you’ve accomplished the critically important tasks for the day… only once you’ve crossed the items off your list, you allow yourself to eat or spread out on the couch….

At the border we were met by many stands catering to the refugees: food, drink, medical care. This sight was so surreal, as if it had been lifted from stories of World War I or II … perhaps this was the third?

We searched for a gas station. In Ukraine, we were used to encountering one every kilometer or two. It’s part of the scenery… but here in Romania the gas stations are nowhere to be seen. Our gas supply is dwindling and it will not refill on its own. I tried asking a passerby while digging out my few Romanian words.

How is it that I knew any Romanian at all? I was once here 38 years ago. When I was six-years-old, my family traveled to Romania to visit my grandparents, the beloved Rabbi Tzvi andTzippora Heber, may their memory be a blessing, who were in Romania on shlichus at the time. Yesterday, as we drove along the twisting roads, I imagined that perhaps my grandfather, who was a shochet, traveled upon these same roads, driving through the snow to bring kosher meat to Romanian Jews. On that long-ago trip, I learned to count in Romanian and picked up a few more words, which I tried to draw on earlier today.

Where to now? Maybe to Bucharest, where there is kosher food. We can’t live on apples and bananas, especially with children in tow… but the drive to Bucharest is eight hours long, and what will we do once we get there?

Perhaps we should go to Israel, the land I love endlessly. Wherever I land in Israel I have a sense of inner peace, as if I’ve arrived at the place that is truly mine. But this time is different… I don’t want to travel to Israel out of a need for escape, but out of free choice.

So I am here for the time being, in Romania—for how long? Maybe until tomorrow. Maybe for another week … we live out our day, I’m trying to go along with the flow.

I remember how in the past, one of the attributes that allowed me to keep my head above water in difficult times was the ability to coast, to drift along without fighting back. No need to waste energy on what we cannot change. Circumstances are not always in our control, but our reactions are. So I’m flowing… yesterday in Ukraine, today in Moldova and Romania. Tomorrow? Only G‑d knows.

Shalom suggested we travel to Iasi. Iasi? Where is it, what is it? I have never heard of it. At that moment I lost control slightly. I began to regret leaving for the unknown; had we been wrong to do so? I recovered quickly, understanding we must be practical and think ahead, the sooner the better. I searched Wikipedia to learn about Iasi, where it was, and why we were headed there. It was closer to the border than Bucharest, a little more than two hours by car, and the city had an international airport, should we decide to go to Israel.

So we’re going to Iasi. Where will we stay, and more importantly, what about kosher food?

This is the third installment of Chana Gopin’s diary of the current war.

You can support the continued work of Chabad of the Obolon district, Kiev, here.

Click here for a prayer you can say and a list of good deeds you can do in the merit of the protection of all those in harm’s way.