Return to the country after four months of exile. Like all passengers on the train from Chelm (Poland) to Kyiv, Tatiana and her mother Valentina decided that, despite the war and uncertainties, it was time. come what may.
Originally from Kryvy Rig, in the center of the country, the two women fled Ukraine at the start of the Russian invasion on February 24 to join family friends living in Izmir, Turkey.
As a clerk in a marketing company, Tatiana, who previously worked in Kyiv, easily continued her activity by teleworking from Turkey.
“But four months is enough. It’s not easy to live in a country you don’t know anything about, whose language you don’t speak,” explains the young woman, who does not give her last name. “I don’t know what’s going to happen or when the war will end, but we’re going home.”
Lots of women and children on the night train. There are also a few men, like a silent thirty-year-old, who stands for long moments in the hallway, watching the green landscapes of Ukraine slowly drifting past the window.
Maxime goes to the Donbass, the mining region in the east of the country that the Russians want complete control of and where war is raging relentlessly. The bombardments there are incessant and Russian forces are slowly but surely gaining ground at the cost of many lives and massive destruction.
“I have to see a lot of people there again. If they are not dead,” says this man simply, returning after a two-month absence.
What about the long waiting times and the train standing still at the border on the Polish side, then on the Ukrainian side? Nobody shows the slightest impatience. Everyone knows that the journey will take more than 15 hours.
All of these travelers are linked by a subtle, imperceptible bond. Regardless of their personal story, their reasons that they generally don’t want to get into, they need to come back together.
Two young women who didn’t know each other talk quietly in the hallway late into the night.
A tube of Ed Sheeran quietly escapes from a compartment.
The blond inspector, authoritative but friendly, comes by, takes orders for tea or water and checks that everyone is seated.
As Kyiv approaches in the morning, the same calm atmosphere pervades the train, but the eyes sparkle more and a kind of solemnity sets in. Traveling in shorts and flip-flops, the good-natured compartment chief put on a white shirt and uniform. Travelers wisely tidy up their beds, empty their trash cans.
The train pulls into the station. Tatiana still has her big smile and asks her fellow travelers to “take care” of her.
The driver unloads the suitcases, takes the passengers by the hands and helps them down to the platform where the husbands, fathers and brothers are waiting for their families, bouquets in hand.
The Ukrainian capital has returned to more or less “normal” life since Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv region in April. According to the latest figures available, almost two-thirds of the capital’s 3.5 million residents have already returned.
Nationally, of the 7.3 million refugees who have left Ukraine since the invasion began, 2.3 million have already returned, according to data released June 9 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
However, on June 23, according to Ukrainian border guards, the number of people leaving the country via the western borders (45,000) exceeded the number of arrivals (40,000) for the first time, marking a reversal of the return trend observed since mid-May.