A New Hampshire man who used to live in Ukraine is finally back in Portsmouth.
John Cavanaugh had been in the country for about nine months before the Russian invasion.
He was able to get easily from Kyiv to Lviv, but that’s when the trip back to the United States got worse.
“It was just chaos,” Cavanaugh said.
On the night of February 23, it became clear that public transport out of Lviv was not an option.
“The train I was hoping to be on, I couldn’t even get near the platform,” he said.
So he went back to his hotel to come up with a different plan to get to Poland.
“That’s when the overhead alarms started,” Cavanaugh said.
He says about 10 times a day he and other hotel guests would be called to the air-raid shelter.
“Which is basically the hotel’s deep underground kitchen,” he explained.
For several days he tried to find ways to leave.
Finally, he got in touch with a Polish humanitarian organization which offered him a ride in the cabin of a box truck.
“When we got to the border, we saw the throngs of humanity,” Cavanaugh said.
He says thousands of people, mostly women and children, were waiting to cross into Poland. Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave under martial law, which was declared after Russia began its full-scale attack.
“We found a woman with six children and she needed a lift, so we got them in the truck,” he said.
As he and the truck driver made room for the Ukrainian mother and her children, Cavanaugh says the harsh realities of war were clarified in the most heartbreaking way.
“Families are being torn apart, people are losing their jobs,” he said. “The psychological and emotional implications of this are profound, and I don’t think you understand that from watching the news.”
Cavanaugh arrived in Warsaw on March 4. A few days later, he boarded a flight to Boston with a backpack full of belongings and a powerful message for his fellow Americans.
“If we don’t find a way to stop this madman, war is coming to us – maybe Poland is next,” he said.
Relieved and grateful, Cavanaugh is now working with people and organizations across New England to raise money for the humanitarian organization that helped him escape from Lviv.