Overwhelmed by the New Beginning: The Return of Women and Children to Ukraine

Overwhelmed by the new beginning
Return of women and children to Ukraine

Three million people are fleeing the war in Ukraine for safe neighboring countries – mostly women and children. But not everyone can afford it abroad. And some of them return to their homeland despite the sound of sirens and bombs.

The train station in Lviv, western Ukraine, is full of people fleeing. They are fighting for places on the trains to Poland. There are only a few people standing on a deserted platform away from the main hall: refugees returning to Ukraine.

Svetlana told Natalucha that they had been away for five days, and tears were wiping off her grandson’s face. From her home in the heavily bombed Kharkiv in the east, first to Lviv (Limberg), and from there to Poland. And now they are back in Ukraine. There are four of them: the 60-year-old grandmother, the 28-year-old daughter Galina Kanuka and two grandchildren.

Kanuka bends between luggage to protect himself from the freezing cold on the platform. She says they were well received in Poland. “Volunteers helped us a lot.” But they had to move on and find help again. She was overwhelmed by the prospect of starting over in a foreign country in a foreign language. Especially since one of the children is sick and needs treatment. That is why the women decided to return to their homeland despite the war.

The future is uncertain

According to the United Nations, more than three million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began three weeks ago. No one knows how many are back. AFP reporters note that at least three trains carrying between 100 and 250 people have left the Polish city of Przemysl for Lviv this week.

Among the passengers are foreign volunteers who want to fight for Ukraine and people transporting relief supplies. However, most of them are women and children who hold Ukrainian passports. “Go home, your homeland is waiting for you,” reads a handwritten sign at the Lviv train station.

Oleksandr works as a train driver on the Przemysl-Lviv line. Sometimes as many as 300 people are on the train back to Ukraine, he said. “At first it wasn’t, but recently a lot of women have come back with kids.”

Although many countries, especially in the European Union, promise to receive and help them, many displaced people fear a fresh start abroad. “They have a feeling they won’t be taken care of in the long run,” Oleksandr said, in the cabin of his hissing train carriage. “A woman said she had been homeless there for a few days and it would have been better to go back to Ukraine.”

“no entry”

The train station in Przemysl, Poland, is teeming with volunteers who provide food, shelter and travel afterwards. Departure board does not show trains returning to Lviv. If you want to go to Ukraine, you have to counter the influx of arrivals through a door at passport control that says “No entry”.

The sparsely populated trains begin their 90-kilometre journey a short distance from the road piled up by fugitives. On the Polish side, helicopters fly over the border area. Once you pass the rusted barbed wire fence at the border, you can see checkpoints bearing Ukrainian flags from the train.

So far, Lviv seems far from the front lines. But on Friday morning, the city was apparently the target of a Russian air strike. Mayor Andrei Sadovy said the missiles hit the airport area. An aircraft repair plant was destroyed. He called on the population to pay attention to the possibility of the presence of weather warnings. The night before, sirens warned of air strikes and windows were blocked with sandbags as a precaution. A nearby military base was hit last Sunday, killing about 35 people.

Svetlana Natalucha and her family still want to stay in the city. “We wanted the children in Poland to be safe, but we didn’t succeed,” she says. “We hope they are safe in Lviv.”

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