- Refugees who fled the war-torn Ukraine are returning.
- About 1.5 million returned.
- Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine in February.
Teenager Maria Pshenichnaya hugs her father Yuri as she gets off a train from Poland at Kiev train station, returning home after fleeing a Russian invasion two months ago.
Tears streamed down the 16-year-old girl’s face as she squeezed the only suitcase.
She fled from Gastomel, one of the suburbs of Kiev, where on February 24 began intense fighting at the beginning of Russia’s offensive.
“I’m very happy to be here,” she told AFP on the platform where she met her father. “I’m very grateful to the people abroad who helped us, but I missed home because my mom is with the dog.”
Another returned, a 30-year-old woman who declined to give a name, told AFP she cried when her train moved to Ukraine.
“You have to get used to living with the war,” she said, returning to Ukraine after two months in Poland to rejoin her fiancé.
“It’s good in Europe, but my life is in Ukraine,” she said.
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She admitted that she did not imagine what would happen in the near future, but believes that peace will return to Ukraine only if [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is dying. “
The couple were only part of thousands of women and children who fled the Ukrainian capital at the start of the Russian invasion, who are now returning despite uncertainty.
A woman was evacuated from a burning house in Kyiv.
While 5.9 million left Ukraine against 1.5 million returned, the number of those who returned – for the first time since the start of the war – exceeded the number of those who left this week.
Official border figures released on May 10 show that 29,000 crossed the border to leave and 34,000 crossed the border to return.
“A house is a house”
So far, nearly two-thirds of the capital’s 3.5 million residents have returned, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Tuesday, reviving a city that was deserted in the early days of the Russian invasion.
Men under the age of 60 are banned from leaving Ukraine, which means that the vast majority of refugees were women and children.
At the train station in Kyiv, Raman, a 22-year-old civilian who became a soldier who was not allowed to give his last name, was looking forward to the train, holding a bouquet of flowers to give to his wife.
A man keeps his dead cat in a blanket while standing near a ruined apartment building in the northwestern Obolon district of Kyiv.
“We’re a little scared, but so much the better,” he said.
A little further incessantly walks another man with flowers in his hands. The train pulls up and shouts of joy. Couples hug and kiss, kids throw themselves into dads ’arms.
Emotional encounters are often noisy, but sometimes more restrained, with tears.
“We are getting used to the war, to the threat. The fear we have now is different than two months ago, ”explains 27-year-old Dana Pervalska, who is standing nearby.
“Calmer, without air strikes and shelling. It’s much better now than in March, ”said Natallia, who fled Kyiv to Lithuania with her six-year-old son Maxim and a 14-month-old baby.
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“A house is a house. We are Ukrainians, ”she shrugs, the cradle of her baby, decorated with blue and yellow ribbons, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
After two months with relatives in Lviv in western Ukraine, Elena Shalimova also decided to return to Kyiv, which she left after an explosion near her home.
“Time has passed, we have accepted this terrible reality, we can coexist with it,” she said.
Almost back to normal
And in Kiev, life seems to have returned to normal.
Most checkpoints have disappeared, shops have reopened, and supermarkets are well stocked.
But the situation remains volatile with the night curfew from 22:00 to 05:00 and parts of the economy at a standstill.
“I worked in a travel agency and a cinema, so I lost all opportunities to earn. My main task is to find a job, ”Shalimova says.
“Patriotism is not about staying at home, it’s about being where you are most effective and able to help your country.”
Despite the influx of repatriates, at the Kiev railway station you can still see many people leaving the station, very aware that the conflict is far from over, and fearing that fighting around the capital may resume.
Among them is 37-year-old Ekaterina Okhrimenko, who finally decided to go to Germany with her 11-year-old son Lucas.
But for her departure – a big unknown – she has no relatives or funds.
“If it weren’t for my son, I would have stayed. I hope to be back soon,” she said.
“I think our country will win.”
For her, tears are tears of sorrow.