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2022-06-24 07:30:04

Editor's Note: Cristian Gherasim is an analyst, consultant and journalist focusing on Eastern and Central European affairs. Follow him on Twitter @Crstn_Gherasim. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.

A few days into Ukraine's war, neighboring Romania quickly found itself as one of the main escape routes for those fleeing for their lives. I was on Romania's northern border, witnessing for the first time in my life the fallout of war, as tens of thousands of refugees crossed into my home country.

The bitterly cold weather was offset by the warm welcome refugees received, a short respite from the reality they were escaping. Those crossing the border were met by volunteers offering everything from a warm meal, blankets, hot drinks and medicine, to hygiene products, clothing and free transport to major cities in Romania. Some arrived late at night, soaking wet, and had to wait many long hours, most of the time well into the next day, to enter Romania. The freezing temperatures and daily snowfall made the long queues even harder to bear.

I saw women and children dropped off by husbands, fathers and partners, as able men were barred from leaving Ukraine, allowed only to accompany loved ones to the border and then return to fight. Couples reached for each other through the chain-linked border fence, in scenes that were at times surreal and cinematic.

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