Ukrainian women who fled the bombs turn back to find their country

They had fled the bombs, but after several days of wanderings, Ukrainian women have turned back to return to their country despite the conflict with Russia which is raging there.

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Lviv train station in western Ukraine is packed with outbound passengers, jostling for seats on trains leaving the war-torn country.


But on a desolate platform, far from the main hall, we observe crowds of people making the opposite journey.

Wiping away her grandson’s tears, Svitlana Nataloukha, 60, says her family traveled for five days: from their home in Kharkiv, an eastern city that has been pounded relentlessly since the start of the war, to Lviv in western Ukraine , then in Poland before turning back.


Svitlana, her 28-year-old daughter, Galyna Kanouka, and her two grandsons were well received in Poland, but paralyzed by the prospect of starting their lives over from scratch, they preferred to return home.


“The volunteers have helped us a lot, but only where they are,” says Galyna Kanouka, huddled on the cold-swept platform next to a pile of packed bags. “They were telling us to continue to other towns and find other volunteers there.”


The language barrier complicating the treatment of a child’s illness also weighed on the decision to return.

More than three million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began three weeks ago, according to the UN.

There are no official figures regarding those who have returned. But AFP witnessed this week three trains carrying between 100 and 250 passengers from the Polish town of Przemysl bound for Lviv.

Among them, a few foreign volunteers responding to Ukraine’s call for military support, people in charge of transporting humanitarian aid. But the others are very often women and children holding Ukrainian passports.

At Lviv station, a handwritten sign invites those who are leaving to return: “Come home, the homeland awaits you”.


Olexandre, an agent on board one of the trains who refuses to give his family, says that sometimes there are up to 300 passengers on board a return train.


“At the beginning, it was not the case, but lately, many women with children have started to come back”, he testifies.

Although many countries – particularly in the EU – have made arrangements to take in Ukrainian refugees, it is difficult to allay the fears of the displaced facing the daunting task of rebuilding their lives elsewhere.

“They feel like they won’t be taken care of in the long term,” says Olexandre, perched in his cabin. “A woman said that she had been homeless for a few days there and that it was better to come back to Ukraine”.


In Przemysl, Poland, returnees leave behind a train station swarming with volunteers offering food, shelter and the onward journey.

Return trains to Lviv are not advertised on the departures board, and travelers negotiate their way against the flow of refugees through a gate marked “no entry” at passport control.

The sparsely packed trains begin a 90 kilometer journey past a congested road border overflown by helicopters on the Polish side.

After a rusting barbed wire fence, the countryside once again becomes a war zone, dotted with checkpoints dotted with Ukrainian flags.

In Lviv, although far from the front lines, the windows are covered with sandbags and sirens announcing air raids sound all night long.

On Sunday, a military base near Lviv and the Polish border was hit by Russian airstrikes, killing some 35 people.

For the family of Svitlana Nataloukha, the largest city in Western Ukraine must nevertheless become a refuge.

“We wanted the children to be safe in Poland, but we didn’t succeed,” she says. “We hope they can be safe in Lviv. »

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