While Ukrainians are fleeing to central Europe for safety as Russia continues its offensive against Ukraine, others, already abroad, are hopping onto trains and buses to return to Ukraine to fight for their country and reunite with loved ones.
On Thursday morning local time, blasts started battering down in cities throughout Ukraine, including in the capital of Kyiv, as Russian troops started invading by land and sea and Russian President Vladimir Putin de facto declared war.
The situation has inspired some Ukrainians living in neighboring countries to return home. Several living throughout Poland told private broadcaster TVN24 they’re en route to Ukraine. Ukraine’s defense minister has encouraged those with a Ukrainian passport to enlist in the army.
Ivanka, a Ukrainian working in Poland, told the independent Poland newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that she’s on her way to Vinnytsia in central Ukraine to collect her parents and two daughters, ages 8 and 10, and bring them to safety in Poland. After that, she said she’s going back home again to fight for her country.
“My husband, Igor, will stay in Poland with our kids and my parents… He will feed our relatives; he will earn money,” Kolisnyk said. “I’m returning to Ukraine.”
“We want to live in a normal society, Putin’s society will only mean violence and death,” she said in Polish. Kolisnyk said she and her husband have plans to settle down in Vinnytsia, where they’re building a house; they’re only in Poland to earn money.
Dima, a 29-year-old Ukrainian working in Poland, was interviewed while already at a train station to travel to Ukraine. He told Gazeta Wyborcza that he had packed his bags as soon as he heard news of Russia’s attack.
“Ukraine was, is, and will be… I’m going to fight for my country,” Dima said in Polish.
Lyubov, a retiree in Ukraine, told VICE News she waited seven hours in traffic to flee Kyiv while experiencing disbelief and fear. She’s now staying at a friend’s house outside of the capital. “I’m going to stay in Ukraine and I believe in our VICTORY!” Lyubov said.
When asked about the Ukrainians returning home to fight for their country, Lyubov said she’s “proud.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has encouraged Ukrainian citizens willing to fight to come forward, and promised weapons for anyone who wants them. It seems many are opting to stay and defend their country.
Pavlo, a neighborhood and community organizer from the Kyiv neighborhood of Podil, told VICE News he decided to stay behind because he felt too connected to his community to leave.
“It’s my community. I have a connectedness to my people, my place,” he said. “For instance, today we created some new chat in Signal, to help people find more information about the sounds of nearby strikes, or about suspicious persons in the neighborhood or situations [involving] queues at the ATM. Things here are much more secure because of this community feeling.”
He said that he is considering joining the reserves, along with three other friends who also stayed behind. They told Pavlo they have even gone as far as to arm themselves. With both his grandparents and parents still in the country, Pavlo said that he’d be more useful staying.
“We need to defend our land,” he said. “If all of us will leave, who will stay behind, not for the front line, but maybe in the back line? I can donate my blood to the blood centers. I feel that I can provide something here… I have responsibility for members of my community.”
Zelenskyy has called Ukraine’s 900,000 reservists into action, many of whom are millennials and Gen Z, and VICE News previously reported how they’re facing a foe that’s significantly more resourced.
Mariia, a lecturer at two academies, told VICE News that three of her 30 students have already decided to volunteer their efforts to the Ukrainian army.
“Our university is very patriotic,” Mariia said. “We have clear, pro-Ukrainian, pro-democratic positions.”
Today, with many students hailing from places that have been in Russia’s crosshairs in the past, many of them are familiar with the impact this conflict can have.
“They were living in Donetsk and Luhansk, [which] was invaded by Russian before. So when things started to get worse in Kyiv, they immediately understood what they should be doing. They are well informed and wiser than me because I’ve never experienced that.”