‘I Felt a True Joy’: Why Ukrainians Are Returning to Kyiv

After Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv suburbs, some of those who fled during the bombardment are making the difficult decision to go home.
ukrainians return to kyiv
Oleksii Sobolev and Kateryna Mykhalko in Kyiv. Photos supplied

Ukrainians have started to return to their homes as Russia refocusses its firepower on the east of the country.

People from cities like Kyiv fled their homes during Russian bombardment, but some have started to return after Russia extracted troops from the suburbs surrounding Kyiv in March, after its attempt to remove Ukraine’s government failed.

Despite some going home, the invasion of Ukraine is far from over – the Donbas region in the east is still the site of intensifying fighting. 


Now, an estimated half a million people of the three million Ukrainians fleeing war are returning to their homes. Although bomb sirens continue to ring out across the city, many are coming back to their flats and workplaces to try and find some normality amid the chaos. 

Kateryna Mykhalko, 20

I decided to return to Kyiv at the end of March when the Ukrainian Army released Bucha, Irpin, and Borodyanka. It felt vital to go to the Kyiv region, talk to local people there, see everything with my own eyes and figure out how to help. Now that there are no battles in the area, it just feels right to be here and rebuild the disaster left by Russia. 

Returning to Kyiv was a long, 12-hour trip. The train could not travel by the easiest route and the lights inside were off for safety reasons. It was a strange trip, but at the same time, it was the most important one in my life because I was coming home. The train arrived at night after the curfew started. In Kyiv, you need to have particular documents and a pass to move around the city at night time. 

As we passed checkpoints in Kyiv, I felt grateful. There were no cars in the street and no street lights were lit up in the city centre. Kyiv looked different, but I was the happiest person to be back home.

Every citizen in Kyiv now is focused on defending Ukrainian freedom by being part of territorial defence or police, buying humanitarian aid, or running their businesses to support the economy. 


I will do anything in my power to renew the Kyiv region through renovation projects and fundraise more money for the Ukrainian Army.

Oleksii Sobolev, 38

After the war started my team got scattered across the whole country. So after evacuating my family to Slovakia, since I’m displaced anyway I decided not to stay anywhere in particular but to drive to the cities where my colleagues are. I’ve mostly visited most of them, who were staying western part of Kyiv. After that and 10 days after the Russians fled from Kyiv, I returned to the capital.

I’ll remember returning to Kyiv for the rest of my life. Once I drove to my residential complex and took my luggage I involuntarily started humming a tune. I didn’t realise what tune that was until after I got to the door of the apartment. I don’t know why but I was humming the Ukrainian national anthem. With that, I entered the flat. It felt really nice. I haven’t experienced anything like this before – a homecoming. The flat was OK and even the plants were somehow OK. I felt true joy with every action I took. Opening the closet. Checking the TV. Making up the bed. Cooking dinner. Everything felt as it should be. A true joy.


Kyiv in February. PHOTO: GENYA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images

What I’ve already noticed after returning is that the city is now like a maze. There are lots of checkpoints around the city and sometimes your usual routes are blocked. Also, there’s a curfew from 9 pm, so all the shops are closing at 7 pm, so their workers could get home on time.


People in Kyiv are OK. They are focusing on restarting their usual business. What I definitely notice is that people are really really appreciating all the signs of their regular life. Like visiting the coffee shop or going to a grocery store.

Dmitriy Koloah, 34

I was in the western part of Ukraine for 40 days. I started to assimilate into local life but it was so weird because it's not my life. I started to live the life of some other guy. All this became really weird for me so I decided to go back to my reality. It's completely other now, but it's mine. That’s why I decided to move back to Kyiv.

I've never been away from home for so long. It was weird but it's similar to the first days of Coronavirus when the city was completely empty and it was also spring. I was in shock but in general, I know what it looks like when you see Kyiv like this because it was the same [during lockdown]. 


photo: GENYA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images

There is a feeling of anxiety because the missile alarms go off three to four times a day – at night and in the morning – and it is a little bit scary because now Russia is saying it will bomb Kyiv if Ukrainians start to bomb Russia. You can't really relax here. It's a really new reality now for all of us and I have my backpack ready. You need to have some tools to immediately evacuate if you need to. 

Now, everybody is trying to start small businesses, like a cafe. All this small, small stuff for the city to come back because a lot of people need work. Everybody is trying to do something and it's very cool. It's very motivating because all people understand that if they don't work, the economy will not work.

For now, I am here and I am really happy here.