Some Ukrainian refugees risk war and head home – POLITICO

PRZEMYSL, Poland – This Polish town on the Ukrainian border has witnessed a surprising phenomenon – thousands of Ukrainian refugees are returning to their homes even as Russia continues to wage war there.

According to the latest figures from the Polish border police, around 13,000 people returned on Tuesday and 12,000 on Monday. Over 370,000 are estimated to have returned since the Russian invasion began on February 24.

The reasons for returns are varied. Some refugees are running out of money or have been unable to find or afford accommodation outside of the refugee camps. In Poland in particular, which was home to some 2.3 million Ukrainians, delays in receiving subsidy funds from the government prompted some to opt to return home.

At the Przemyśl railway station, long queues form in front of trains bound for the cities of Lviv, Kyiv and Odessa, which returned empty to Ukraine at the start of the invasion.

“It’s always better at home,” says Lilia Schuba, 42, a teacher from Vynohradiv in western Ukraine, as she queues for the train to Lviv. “We left a week ago and now we’re going back. My husband volunteered for the army and there is no one in our house.”

On their way from Ukraine, she and her three-year-old son Oleksandr spent 13 hours at the Hungarian border.

“I left to gather my strength and now we will return to wait for the end of the war in Ukraine,” she said.

for weeks, Przemyśl was Europe’s largest hub for Ukrainians fleeing their homeland, and thousands of new refugees continue to arrive every day.

Almost every shop window has a Ukrainian flag, and banners and billboards welcoming Ukrainians can be seen all over the medieval Polish city, which was a popular tourist destination before the pandemic.

At the Przemyśl train station, the paths of refugees and returnees cross for a few hours every day and exchange experiences.

“We are aware of the reported returnees to Ukraine and we respect people’s decision,” said Victoria Andrievska, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.

“They can better assess their personal situation. However, UNHCR is not currently assisting people to return,” she said.

International volunteers from Western European countries such as the UK and Spain can be seen all over the station, helping arrivals get a hot meal, tickets, clothes, toys for their children and even vaccines for their pets. The volunteers also tell of refugees returning in large numbers.

“We saw several thousand walking back through Przemyśl every day. As the largest border crossing in Europe, we’re probably seeing most people going back,” said Ada Wordsworth, 23, who put her MA in Slavic Studies on hold at Oxford University to help with the crisis and has been helping with the Russian translation for the past three weeks .

“I was completely surprised when I saw it, it was shocking. The first family I met who went back wanted to go to Kharkiv,” she recalls, referring to the Ukrainian city that was heavily bombed by Russian forces.

In the beginning, only one or two people returned, usually to retrieve pets or family members, after initially leaving the country alone.

“Western media wants to see Ukraine as this grey, dark, depressing post-Soviet space that nobody wants to go back to, but in fact everyone I’ve spoken to has said they want to go back as soon as possible.” said Wordsworth.

“Usually it’s people who couldn’t find a job, who couldn’t find an apartment. Others have been scammed and lost a lot of money in Poland,” she said.

She and other volunteers say the EU needs to recognize that most Ukrainian refugees want to stay in Poland or Moldova, where the language and environment are more similar to their own, and that funds from the rest of the bloc should be diverted there.

“The current trend of returnees is messing up the perception in the West that their countries are the be-all and end-all and that everyone just wants to end up there,” she said.

For Dariusz Stola, a historian at the Polish Academy of Sciences who has published several books on migration, the returnees fit historical patterns.

“Even during peacetime migrations, a number of people choose to return when they intended to stay because the migration experience is not what they expected,” he said.

“Some people’s emotional needs may outweigh the fear of war. They could interpret news from Ukraine as strengthening their resolve to return,” Stola said. “The emotional cost of a breakup in dramatic circumstances may seem greater than the fear of possible Russian shelling.”

Those who originally left “might decide that it’s better for them to stay with family and friends and people they love than to be away and wake up every day worried about what’s going on with their husbands, parents and others.” that they left behind in Ukraine happened,” he said. Some Ukrainian refugees risk war and head home - POLITICO

Fry Electronics Team

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