This Ukrainian-Canadian has been spending every day in Berlin's central station helping refugees
Mobilization efforts in Berlin Central Train Station 'unlike anything' she has seen
When Anna Miller walked to the Berlin Central Train Station with her son and a box of supplies to donate one week ago, she knew she had to stay.
As the former head of Humanitarian Programs at Save the Children Canada, Miller has been in the thick of several humanitarian emergencies, but said this operation was "unlike anything" she had ever seen.
"You walk into the station … the food operation is running, there's charging stations, there's an info desk, there's people helping get free tickets to onward journeys," she said. "There's people trying to help mothers with young kids."
"They're exhausted — I think that's the number one thing I see is just pure exhaustion."
So Miller put down the box and put on a vest to volunteer.
Miller, a Ukrainian-Canadian, grew up in Toronto. She is now an expat who lives and works in Berlin with her husband and 10-year-old son.
Miller knew that her ability to speak Ukrainian, as well as her background in humanitarian support, would be vital skills in helping vulnerable families get to the next leg of their journey.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and she is now one of many volunteers who have been spending their days — and sometimes nights — at the station to help with distribution and translation services for the thousands of refugees arriving there daily from Ukraine.
'We are trying to show solidarity'
The task has been far from easy.
Two million people — mostly women and children — have now fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion, the United Nations says. Of those, 45,000 filter through Berlin's central station daily.
Trains and buses holding as many as 1,200 refugees sometimes arrive within 15 minutes of each other, Miller says, meaning thousands of people are flooding the station at once.
Russia announced a handful of humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to flee Ukraine starting Monday, although the evacuation routes were mostly leading to Russia and its ally Belarus, drawing criticism from Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russian forces continued to pummel Ukrainian cities including Mykolaiv, south of the capital of Kyiv, indicating there would be no wider cessation of hostilities.
An attempt to evacuate civilians from the bombarded port of Mariupol and deliver food, water and medicine was thrown into jeopardy Tuesday by what Ukraine said was continued shelling by Russian forces.
"We were stunned by the speed of [the invasion] … how swift it was, how brutal it was," Miller said.
It's a situation all-too familiar to Miller, whose grandmother fled Ukraine as a refugee during the First World War.
"Now a different war is happening in Ukraine for equally senseless reasons," she said. "That irony is not lost on me."
Child-safe space set up at station
Countless other Canadians have been doing the same as Miller. People across the country continue to mobilize to help Ukraine with financial aid and supplies. Some are even flying to Ukraine to join the fight.
For their part, Miller and her husband have appealed to friends and family in the Greater Toronto Area through a small campaign of their own, raising $22,000 and counting.
Those donations have so far bought 300 blankets, 1,000 kids food kits, 250 kids colouring kits and 300 wool hats, all of which has been purchased in Berlin and transported to the station.
"We knew people were looking for a way to help," she said. "I think a lot of friends in Toronto saw this as a really tangible way."
Many of those supplies have been set up in two child-safe spaces at the station, where parents can take their children to participate in activities — "anything to keep the kids occupied for the night," Miller said.
'People are emotional — they're exhausted'
Miller adds that she hasn't met a single person who hasn't been on the road for at least seven days.
"People are emotional — they're exhausted," she said.
One young woman, Miller says, fled Ukraine just six months before completing her medical degree. She traveled for eight days, not sleeping for more than two hours at a time.
When Miller crossed paths with her, she had just been standing for the last seven hours of her train ride.
That young woman is one of the lucky ones, Miller says. Many await the same opportunity.
Still, it's efforts like these that give Miller hope for the future.
"There's just this solidarity and humanity you see in the volunteer-run effort," Miller said. "I don't think I've ever seen that before."
With files from Ali Chiasson and Derick Deonarain