Ukraine’s Hero Of The Night
How a brave 11 year old boy traveled 700 miles by himself to escape the horrors of war
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced over 3 million people and counting to uproot their lives and flee their homes. With civilians becoming increasingly targeted, those who could not fight had to take a chance to get to safety.
While able-bodied men aged 18–60 were instructed to stay and defend their country, women, children and the elderly were allowed to evacuate and seek safety outside the country. The fact that families had to be torn apart so suddenly made for a truly heart wrenching experience.
Just seeing the many fathers and brothers bidding farewell to their loved ones without knowing if they would ever see each other again was incredibly sad to say the least. But even then, there lay a silver lining. Families could leave together and try to pick up the pieces. A mother could ensure the safety of her children and a son could see to it that his elderly parents were no longer in danger.
In the past week however, we were introduced to Ukraine’s “Hero of the Night”. This is the story of how an 11 year old boy braved a 700 mile journey all by himself in order to escape the war.
Who is Ukraine’s Hero of The Night?
Hassan Pisecka was an 11 year old boy who lived in Zaporizhzhya, a city in South-Eastern Ukraine which was also home to the country’s largest nuclear power plant. Hassan had lived in Ukraine for most of his childhood after his family had fled Syria.
No stranger to war, Hassan’s father was killed when the family attempted to leave Syria and they chose to resettle in his mother’s homeland of Ukraine. The youngest in the family, Hassan lived at home with his mother, Yullia and elderly grandmother.
When the Russians began attacking the Zaporizhyzhya nuclear power plant, panic ensued. It was bad enough that civilians were already being targeted but an attack on a nuclear power plant could have yielded catastrophic results.
For the residents of Zaporizhzhya, the situation seemed bleak. If the Russians did not get them, the equally indiscriminate nuclear fall-out would. Unlike some Ukrainians in other parts of the country, the decision to hunker down at home was even less feasible.
Thus, with the situation as dire as it appeared, Hassan and his family knew that evacuating was their best option at guaranteeing their safety. However, other factors at play meant that the young boy had to leave on his own.
Evacuating from a war is never an easy or clear cut thing to do. There’s no such thing as booking the next flight out to wherever you want to go. It is a long, demanding journey filled with uncertainty and panic.
For Hassan’s family, the only way out was by train. With people evacuating by the thousands, the trains were packed to the brim, with hundreds of people lining up the carriages with whatever belongings they could carry while many fought and clawed desperately for a place on the next cramped train.
Hassan and his family were more fortunate than most in the sense that they had somewhere to flee to and people waiting for them. As Hassan’s siblings and other relatives were already in Slovakia, the plan was to take the train to the Slovakian border where they would be met by relatives who would take them to the Capital, Bratislava to be reunited with the rest of the family.
Unfortunately, Hassan’s 84 year old grandmother was of limited mobility and was physically unable to make the grueling trip. Unwilling to leave her ailing mother alone, Hassan’s mother made the difficult decision to send her son to Slovakia on his own.
Yullia gave her son a small plastic bag of belongings, his passport and had written a phone number on her son’s hand before sending him on his way. She then returned home to care for her mother, hoping that help would come.
Alone in the crowded train, Hassan noted that he was afraid of all the different people who cramped each carriage and feared for the safety of his mother and grandmother who could not follow him. However, his resolve was strengthened by his desire to reunite with his siblings and fulfil his mother’s wishes.
Upon reaching the border, Slovakian officials realized that the boy was hungry, alone and uncertain of what to do next. Despite that, he remained friendly and in high spirits. They fed him, checked his documents and noticed the number written on his hand.
The number belonged to Hassan’s relatives who lived in Slovakia and they instantly made arrangements to fetch him upon hearing the news of his safe arrival. Hassan’s story soon made headlines with Slovak Government officials praising his bravery and courage.
Now safe with family in Bratislava, Hassan was dubbed “The Hero of the Night” by Slovakia’s Interior Ministry. Moved by the kindness her son was shown by Slovak officials, Yullia made a video on Facebook to express her gratitude and to state her desire for this to never have to happen to a child again.
Although the situation with the nuclear plant began to settle somewhat, the Russian attack showed no signs of letting up. Yullia realized that help would not come any time soon. Rather than stay put and hope for a miracle, Yullia took a chance.
Taking her mother and their dog with her, Yullia decided that they had to make the trip to Slovakia as well. Although the day long train journey was physically demanding, Yullia’s mother was treated gently by her fellow evacuees and the two were able to safely arrive in Slovakia where they were welcomed with open arms. A short time later, they were reunited with the rest of their family and can now work on rebuilding their lives .
The heartfelt reunion served as a beacon of light to many around the world and especially to those facing their darkest times attempting to flee from the atrocities of war.
Food For Thought
Hassan’s story is without a doubt inspirational and heartwarming. He deserves all the praise in the world and to feel pride for the courage he has shown at such a young age. However, we should ask ourselves one question: Should this have even happened in the first place?
This invasion, like any other before it, has separated families, orphaned children and left parents desperate looking for the kids that they were parted from. Many of the 1.5 million children that fled Ukraine were just like Hassan, forced to flee on their own. Unlike him however, most of them do not have the good fortune of having relatives in a nearby country or a parent who would soon join them.
Even in Hassan’s case, while his story has a happy ending, its background is unspeakably tragic. Having lost his father to flee one war, he now had to leave his new home, risking his own life and dealing with the possibility of never seeing his mother and grandmother again. No child should ever have to endure such a thing regardless of how the outcome turns out.
So yes, keep giving Hassan the praise he is more than deserving of and let his story serve as a beacon of hope in the bleakest of times. However, if Ukraine’s Hero of the Night could teach you one thing above all else, it is that the horrors of war often affect those who deserve it least. Before resorting to any kind of violence, remember that you’re hurting somebody’s parent, child, sibling or loved one and that is never ok.