[Reportage] Amid exodus out of Ukraine, some return to defend war-torn homeland

Posted on : 2022-03-17 17:16 KST Modified on : 2022-03-17 17:37 KST
The Hankyoreh spoke with Ukrainians on their way back into the country about why they’re returning during the war
Nadiya, originally from Odessa, Ukraine, waits in line for immigration procedures to board a train back to Ukraine, on March 14 (local time). (Noh Ji-won/The Hankyoreh)
Nadiya, originally from Odessa, Ukraine, waits in line for immigration procedures to board a train back to Ukraine, on March 14 (local time). (Noh Ji-won/The Hankyoreh)

On Monday afternoon, people gathered and formed two long lines in front of platform No. 5 at the Przemysl train station in Poland. One was made up of passengers who had disembarked from the train that had just crossed into Poland from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. The people forming the queue were going through immigration procedures, patiently waiting their turn one after another.

Refugees from Ukraine typically make their escape from the war-torn country by entering Poland through Przemysl, a small Polish city along the Ukrainian-Polish border. With so many people in line, the wait at the platform can last for over an hour. Out of the 3,000,381 refugees who fled Ukraine, 1.83 million have made their way to Poland as of Tuesday.

But another line had formed next to the line of refugees on the platform. The second line numbered 50 to 60 people around 3 pm but doubled in length as the departure time of the train from Przemysl to Kyiv neared. The people in this line were waiting for the train heading home, their outward appearance similar to that of those that had just crossed the border. But the air about them was different from the recent arrivals. For one, none of them were carrying young children. Then there were the expressions they wore: somehow more relaxed than those who had just made their escape.

Two lines, one for those who have completed immigration procedures after arriving in Poland from Kyiv or Lviv, Ukraine, and one for those headed to Ukraine from Poland, bustle with people at platform No. 5 of the Przemysl train station in Poland on March 14. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)
Two lines, one for those who have completed immigration procedures after arriving in Poland from Kyiv or Lviv, Ukraine, and one for those headed to Ukraine from Poland, bustle with people at platform No. 5 of the Przemysl train station in Poland on March 14. (Kim Hye-yun/The Hankyoreh)

Nadiya, a 32-year-old who previously worked in Poland, now stood in line at Przemysl station waiting for the train to Kyiv with a single backpack in tow. Her hometown is Odessa, the third-largest city in Ukraine and a port city at the center of the country’s southern region from which Ukrainian-grown grain is exported to the world. The city is home to the famous stairway from the cinematic masterpiece “Battleship Potemkin” that made a lasting impression on viewers around the world. Just like Odessans who resisted the tyranny of the czar a century ago, Odessans today are keeping the fire of resistance well and alive by installing shields and erecting walls with sandbags on the streets in order to block Russian tanks from invading the city.

Nadiya started making preparations to return home immediately after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. The process took her a while, as she had to quit her job and terminate her lease in Poland. She told her boss that she was quitting, that she didn’t know when she would return. She also notified her landlord that she was moving out. Originally, she had planned to return to Ukraine in about six months, after saving up a bit of money. Her mother, father, and siblings are waiting for her back home.

“Because I have to help people inside [Ukraine]. That’s why I’m going back,” Nadiya told the Hankyoreh. “My family doesn’t want to leave home, so I should be the one to go. It’s better to be together than for me to be here and worry every day.”

Upon her homecoming, Nadiya will have to call the air-raid shelter her second home. Thankfully, attacks against Odessa by the Russian military have abated in the last few days. “A while ago, it was very dangerous, but I think the situation is a bit better now. If God is with us, we will win,” she said.

Volodymyr was also standing in the same line as Nadiya. The 45-year-old had arrived in Poland six months ago in search of employment, but now he is heading to his home in Vinnytsia in southeastern Ukraine in order to protect his spouse and children. He said, “Everyone in Ukraine will protect the country.” He intends to fight in the war.

Alex, also in the second line behind Nadiya and Volodymyr, was headed to Lviv in western Ukraine. Though the 43-year-old was born and raised in Ukraine, he spent his adult years working in Israel. Alex works as a psychotherapist. “There are many people who are hurting mentally because of the trauma of war. I want to go [home] and help them,” he told us.

What kind of fate awaits these Ukrainians returning home? Will we be able to meet them again, sometime, someday?

By Noh Ji-won, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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