Russia-Ukraine war: Ukrainian deserters risk their lives to escape; dozens of people died.
At least 90 Ukrainian soldiers who evaded the draft and deserted are believed to have died trying to cross the border into Romania.
Soldiers risked their lives to escape the battlefield.
George - a Ukrainian deserter, said: "The Tisa River is shallower than I thought, only reaching my chest. So I don't need to swim. I just waded across the river."
But when George reached the coast of Romania, a Ukrainian patrol spotted him.
"First, I heard gunshots, then a flurry of insults. But I wasn't afraid. Once you've spent time on the front lines, you'll know the difference between bullets that just hit the air and bullets hit you," George shared.
George was a large man with a gentle face but a wounded exterior. As a deserter from the Ukrainian army, he faces up to 10 years in prison if caught.
George is not the actual name of the Ukrainian deserter. The names of the other Ukrainians in this article have been changed to protect their identities.
It took George weeks and thousands of euros for a network of "guides" to travel through Ukraine from the eastern war zone to this verdant and peaceful western border.
The border between Ukraine and Romania runs along a ridge in this area. The "guides" - smugglers, in fact - would guide Ukrainian soldiers who had defected to Romania.
However, according to unofficial Ukrainian figures, 90 deserters have died en route to Romania - possibly drowning in the Tisa River or freezing to death in the mountains - in the past 15 months.
The battlefield hell and huge sums of money to avoid the draft.
George's first night in the trenches was the worst. That was in March last year, a month after the war with Russia began.
"We have 27 dead and 57 wounded," the Ukrainian soldier said, flipping through pictures of his former comrades on his phone. His forehead creased as he did so, and his large hands trembled.
"All these people are dead, except me and this person," he pointed to a woman in camouflage uniform.
According to BBC News, corruption is recognized by the Ukrainian government as a big problem and abets those who intend to avoid the draft. Reliable sources in western Ukraine have revealed the existence of "monthly fees" - so that someone doesn't have to join the army.
Meanwhile, reports from the front lines say Ukrainian commanders have asked the recruitment office to stop sending them men who either don't want to go to war or are too scared to fight because they are just a burden in battle.
But as many Ukrainian men see fleeing to another country as their only chance to avoid the battlefield, the Ukrainian military regularly stops cars and buses tens of kilometers apart on the Tisa River road to find looking for draft evaders.
The Ukrainian border police recently reported that they are detaining up to 20 Ukrainian men who evade military service every day.
But according to Romania's immigration service, 6,200 Ukrainian men of military age have illegally crossed the boundary into Romania since the conflict between Russia and Ukraine broke out last year. These people are under temporary protection.
In addition, another 20,000 people went to Romania legally and chose not to return to Ukraine.
The border crossing is full of risks and uncertainties.
Dima - a Ukrainian soldier who defected from the draft - pulled up his sock to show the BBC his right foot. The whole foot is round and red. He lost all his toes to frostbite while crossing the Maramures from western Ukraine to northern Romania. Dima fled Ukraine when he received a summons to join the army. Dima's group consisted of four people, but one died on the way to the border.
"On the second night during the snowstorm, I called my wife. I said sorry, I can't hide," Mr. Dima shared.
"I told him not to be stupid, get up, and keep going," said Katja, Dima's wife, sitting beside her husband. They were holding hands tightly.
Obeying his wife, Dima tried to go down the mountain, though he lost his balance because of the strong wind and slippery ice. He plunged down the hill, losing his boots, phone, and one of his socks. Bruised, bleeding, and shaking, he made a sock from torn pants and a phone cable.
The Romanian rescue service, informed by his wife Dima, found him almost dead after four days and three nights in the mountains. He was airlifted to safety.
"How would you respond if someone called you a coward?" the BBC reporter asked Dima.
"I don't have a country. I only have a family," Dima replied awkwardly.
Source from the Internet