‘It Wasn't Like It Was Before’: Ukrainians Return Home as War Rages On

Many Ukrainian refugees have decided to go back to Ukraine, despite the fact that the war is ongoing.
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
Refugees from Ukraine wait in the ticket hall of the railwlay station in Przemysl, eastern Poland, which has become a hub for refugees from Ukraine fleeing their country due to Russia's aggression.​ But today, many Ukrainians are also opting to go back ho
Refugees from Ukraine wait in the ticket hall of the railwlay station in Przemysl, eastern Poland, which has become a hub for refugees from Ukraine fleeing their country due to Russia's aggression. But today, many Ukrainians are also opting to go back home. (Photo by WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Many Ukrainians who fled their country are starting to return home, even as Russia continues its offensive.

Kristina, a 22-year-old Ukrainian from the Kyiv area whose last name is concealed to protect her relatives back home, fled Ukraine for Warsaw, Poland, in early March. She returned to Lviv, Ukraine, last week for six days to deliver some items, including toys and shoes for her younger siblings who are still living in Ukraine with her stepmom. 

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Kristina said many Ukrainians are trying to go back home, especially after news broke that Russian forces retreated from Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.  But it’s unclear what Russian President Vladimir Putin’s next move is going to be, she said. 

“People are thinking, ‘OK, maybe it’s the end of the war.’ They think it’s the end and they’re going back. But honestly, what if he’s regrouping?” Kristina told VICE News. “Ukrainians shouldn’t return home yet because this could just be the calm before the storm.” 

Local officials in Poland confirmed that some Ukrainians are heading back. 

“For some time, we’ve observed a growing number of people wanting to return to Ukraine,” said Kamil Krukiewicz, a spokesperson with the mayor’s office in the border city of Przemyśl, Poland. 

Przemyśl has been helping refugees fleeing Ukraine, even transforming a supermarket into a shelter for them. Many people pass through the city when delivering aid to Ukraine as well. 

Kristina said she misses Ukraine, but it’s not worth staying in the country permanently right now. 

“I wanted to be there, in Ukraine, so badly because it's my country. But when I arrived it wasn't like it was before,” she said. “When you’re home, you hear bombs, and you don’t know where they’ll drop.” 

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In Ukraine, life isn’t returning to normal yet either. Kristina pointed to the curfew, and said a lot of stores aren’t open. Air raid sirens ring day and night. 

“It’s really bad there,” she said. 

More than 4 million people—mostly women and children—have fled Ukraine since Russia first invaded six weeks ago, 2.5 million going to Poland, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But today, many are starting to go back.

Many Ukrainians have opted to stay in Poland—as opposed to moving to another country—because it’s close to Ukraine and they hope to return as soon as the war ends. One Ukrainian woman currently in Warsaw, who asked not to be named out of concern for her male relatives back home, said she will return to Ukraine as soon as it’s safe to do so. Her husband has repeatedly told her not to return yet. 

“He said, ‘What will you do here? You want to live in the cellar with me?’” she said. “But it’s my home. My entire life.”

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