The National Times - War or no war, Ukrainian families board train home

War or no war, Ukrainian families board train home

War or no war, Ukrainian families board train home
War or no war, Ukrainian families board train home

Inside a snow-capped train station on the Polish-Ukrainian border, Olga Korotkova waited quietly among dozens of Ukrainian families to go home to her war-torn country.

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Przemysl station is much emptier than a few weeks ago, when tens of thousands of Ukrainian women and children poured out of their country each day in search of safety after Russia's February 24 invasion.

On the near-deserted platforms, volunteers in yellow vests helped a handful of families heave their luggage onto trains headed further west into Poland.

But near the departures board in the waiting hall, some also watched for updates on trains rolling back eastwards into Ukraine towards Lviv, Mykolaiv, Odessa or Kyiv.

Olga, her husband Slava and 10-year-old son Dima hoped to return to Mykolaiv, a port city under Russian fire on the shores of the Black Sea, after more than a month stranded abroad.

"When the war broke out, we were in Egypt," on holiday in the Red Sea resort of Marsa Alam, she said. "Then we were transported to Poland."

Before they rushed off to passport control, Dima proudly said it will be his birthday next week.

- 22:35 to Kyiv -

More than four million Ukrainians have fled Ukraine since the war started, with a huge proportion arriving in Poland, according to the United Nations.

But over half a million Ukrainians have also made the journey in the opposite direction, Ukrainian authorities have said, to the relative safety of the western city of Lviv, or further on towards the frontline.

Some 88,000 people have returned in the last week alone.

On one bench, a woman in a turquoise woolly hat said she and her daughter would be catching the 22:35 train to the capital Kyiv, where Russian troops have recently withdrawn from the outskirts, leaving a trail of killings in their wake.

She said she was very thankful to Poland for its welcome, but she missed her cat and her dog which are being looked after by friends.

On the platform for the Polish capital Warsaw, a family of four clutched at each other's puffer jackets in a desperate last embrace.

Two children and an older woman boarded the train, but a younger woman in a silver coat stayed behind alone. In tears, she wheeled her suitcase to the end of the platform, then stopped to watch the train slowly curve out of view.

A few hours later, she joined a queue of dozens filing through a door marked "no entry", towards the train for Lviv.

- 'I want to go home' -

The train wheeled into the night towards Ukraine, soon stopping on the Ukrainian side of the border as officials moved from one compartment to the next, checking passports.

With the train at a standstill, a girl giggled delightedly as she ran up and down the carriage, pursued by a boy filming her on a large tablet. Laughter spilled from their compartment as they then replayed the video.

It was close to midnight, and long past curfew, when the train finally pulled up under the glass dome of Lviv train station.

Coats rustled as people zipped up to face the cold, and then ferried endless carrier bags of belongings into the corridor for a swift exit.

A young mother who gave her name as Ulyana stood in line for the door with her young daughter, as they make their way back to Zhytomyr, a town further east towards Kyiv.

"In Poland it was very good, but I want to go home."