11-year-old Hassan al-Khalaf was clinging to hope when he trekked alone in Ukraine, safely reaching Slovakia after joining a horde of refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion.
Hassan arrived in Slovakia in early March, drawing widespread media attention after local police posted his story on his Facebook page, calling him a “hero” after traveling by train and on foot from Zaporizhzhya in southeast Ukraine.
“I got my hope from my mom that I want to go,” Haasan said in an interview Friday before appearing as a guest at a pro-Ukraine demonstration in the Slovak capital Bratislava.
“My hope got me on my way,” he said through an interpreter.
Russia called its actions in Ukraine a “special operation”.
Hassan’s widowed mother could not leave her grandmother at home, so she alone sent the boy to Slovakia on a journey of more than 1,000 km (620 mi), where his older brother studied. He arrived with nothing but a plastic bag, passport and a phone number written on his hand.
“This brings tears to our eyes. This is the biggest hero of last night,” Slovak police wrote on March 5 after Hassan crossed the border.
Hassan is one of more than 2.5 million refugees who have fled Ukraine, mostly Poland, but also Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, to reach the European Union.
At least 176,000 have crossed the border with Slovakia in what the United Nations has called the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
“I want to say a big thank you to the volunteers, because they are helping people they don’t even know,” Hasan said.
“I believe there will be a happy ending.”
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