AP PHOTOS: Tulips, hugs for refugees on women's holiday

March 8, 2022 GMT

The mouth of a harried woman who has just fled war-battered Ukraine curves up in a tentative smile when a Romanian immigrations officer hands her a purple tulip he has plucked from a bouquet. A glimmer of hope and gratitude appear on the face of another woman as she clutches a container of food and accepts a single pink tulip from a Catholic priest at a train station in Poland.

But even the kind gestures of strangers on International Women’s Day were a weak palliative Tuesday for the anxious refugees who fled their homes, many with small children in tow. Instead of the chocolates, flowers, and kisses their friends and families in Ukraine usually bestow upon them, they instead have graciously made do with blooms proffered by unknown hands and the gift of safe refuge in a foreign country.

Photographs taken by Associated Press photographers capture just how difficult and emotionally painful the journey has been: the sorrow of a woman who buries her face in her hands as she sits on a cot in a school gymnasium-turned refugee shelter in Przemysl, Poland; the grimace of an elderly, snow-covered woman in a wheelchair who clutches a pink pillow in her lap as she is pushed along a road after being evacuated from the Ukrainian city of Irpin; a recent evacuee from Irpin who pauses on a rain and snow-saturated street, places a hand over her heart and stares down at the cold, wet pavement.

Full Coverage: Photography

For women who have been unable to flee, finding safety was the most important goal on this international holiday. An AP photographer captured one such woman holding and comforting a small child in her arms after taking refuge in a makeshift bomb shelter in the besieged Ukrainian port of Mariupol.