PRZEWODOW, Poland/WARSAW (Reuters) -Hours after an apparently stray missile delivered death to their village, the inhabitants of Przewodow, south-eastern Poland, struggled on Wednesday with the realisation that the war on their doorstep could spill across the border at any time.
For many, terror or disbelief were the overriding emotions, though some expressed relief that the missile that killed two of their neighbours on Tuesday appeared to have been an accident caused by Ukraine’s air defences and not a Russian strike.
“Everyone has in the back of their mind that we are right near the border and that an armed conflict with Russia would expose us directly,” Grzegorz Drewnik, the mayor of Dolhobyczow, which incorporates Przewodow, told Reuters.
“That’s the biggest fear. If this is a mistake of the Ukrainians, there should be no major consequences, but I’m not an expert here.”
Some families were making arrangements just in case.
“My daughter has just called, she said: ‘Dad, if anything happens, come over’. She lives further away,” said Ryszard Turczanik, a 67-year-old pensioner in the nearby village of Bialystok.
Many parents in Przewodow kept their children at home on Wednesday, while others assessed damage caused to buildings by the explosion, which struck a grain dryer at a 2,500-hectare farm some six km (four miles) from the border with Ukraine and rattled windows 15 km away.
“I’m terrified, people whom we knew very well have died,” Joanna Magus, a teacher of Polish at the local primary school, who lies just 100 metres (330 feet) from the site of the explosion, told reporters.
The blast’s victims were two male workers at the storage facility, one 58 and the other 62, said school principal Ewa Byra.
“At first, I thought it was a boiler that blew, but when it turned out it was a missile, I almost fainted,” said 30-year-old farm worker Mateusz Zub, who was due to start his shift hours after the blast.
“It could have been me,” he told Reuters.
After a sleepless night, Byra decided to keep her school, situated some 300 metres from the blast site, open on Wednesday.
“I told the parents I see no grounds to close the school but kids haven’t shown up. It seems parents have kept them at home amid the heavy police presence,” she told Reuters.
Concerns that the war could expand were shared in other countries bordering Russia and Ukraine in the immediate aftermath of the blast. In Lithuania, there was also relief that the missile strike may have been accidental.
“If it was (done on purpose), it could be an expansion, but it wasn’t, so I don’t think it will spill over, it will get sorted,” said Vilnius resident Arminas Tarciaukas.
Poland and NATO both said the missile was probably fired by Ukraine’s air defences and had gone astray but Warsaw later said it could have resulted from a provocation from the Russian side. Moscow said it had nothing to do with the incident.
Back in Przewodow, Byra said she worried about the psychological impact of the blast on her pupils.
“Since the start of the war we keep analysing the danger, it has quietened down recently, but here we are today,” she said.
Additional reporting by Kuba Stezycki, Anna Koper, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Andrius Sytas; editing by Gwladys Fouche, John Stonestreet and Philippa Fletcher