KYIV, UKRAINE (AFP) – Teenager Maria Pshenychna embraces her father, Yuriy, as she descends from a train from Poland at a Kyiv station, returning home after fleeing the Russian invasion two months ago.
The 16-year-old had tears running down her face, clutching a single suitcase.
She had fled Gostomel, one of the Kyiv suburbs that saw intense fighting at the start of Russia’s attack launched on Feb 24.
“I’m so happy to be here,” she told AFP on the platform where she was reunited with her father.
“I am really thankful to the people abroad who helped us but I missed home because my mum is there with my dog.”
Another returnee, a woman in her 30s who refused to be named, told AFP that she had cried when her train crossed into Ukraine.
“You need to get used to living with war,” she said, returning to Ukraine after two months in Poland to rejoin her fiance.
“In Europe, it is good, but my life is in Ukraine,” she said.
She admitted that she had no idea what the immediate future would hold but believed that peace will only return to Ukraine “when (Russian President Vladimir) Putin dies”.
The pair were just some of thousands of women and children who fled the Ukrainian capital at the start of the Russian invasion who are now heading back, despite the uncertainties.
While Ukraine has seen 5.9 million departures compared to 1.5 million returns, the number of those coming back – for the first time since the war began – exceeded those leaving this week.
Official border figures released on May 10 showed 29,000 crossed the frontier to leave while 34,000 crossed to go back.
‘Home is home’
So far, nearly two-thirds of the capital’s 3.5 million inhabitants have returned, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Tuesday, reviving a city that emptied in the first days of the Russian invasion.
Men under 60 were banned from leaving Ukraine, meaning the vast majority of refugees were women and children.