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'Mother stayed behind': Desperate refugees weigh up risks of returning to their devastated homes

At the Polish border with Ukraine, we’ve found heavy emotions among refugees fleeing their country.

But to our surprise we’ve found many, including women and children, heading back into Ukraine.

Przemysl is a Polish town a few miles from the border with Ukraine. For the past few weeks it’s been a hub of activity and the beating heart of nationwide Polish solidarity for their eastern neighbours.

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Irina and husband Vlodomir Lysianka also escaped Ukraine

The train station is where you’ll find most of the refugees. They arrive on platform five on the daily trains from Lviv in Ukraine.

Among them, we watch teenager Sonia, with her young cousin, buying a train ticket to take them onward into Poland.

Through our translator, she tells me she is from Kharkiv, the shattered eastern Ukrainian city. In broken English she explains how devastated her city now is.

Her story gives a hint of such relatable judgements that families are being forced to make.

“My mother has stayed behind in Kharkiv,” she says, explaining that her mother is elderly but also that they have lots of pets.

Mark Stone with Valentina Puzanova in Poland
Mark Stone with Valentina Puzanova in Poland

Other news from Ukraine:

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Dozens of troops feared dead in attack on barracks as they slept
More than 1,000 people still trapped in bombed theatre
Extraordinary survival as man rescued after hours under debris
Boris Johnson claims Putin in a ‘panic’ over revolution in Moscow

The Bilechenko family arrived in Poland two weeks ago
The Bilechenko family arrived in Poland two weeks ago

Draw to be back home outweighs the risk

The family decision had been that her mother would remain behind with the animals.

Nearby, an elderly man sits, forlorn. His name is Anton and his story is bittersweet.

His home town, Sumy, has been heavily bombed. After days hiding in basements with his wife, he explains, they managed to make it out through one of the humanitarian corridors. He sobs as he recalls the escape.

But they have a draw through Europe; a motivation which keeps them going. They have five grandchildren in Germany. A reunion will come in the days ahead.

On the other side of the station, something we had not expected. A long line of Ukrainians heading the other way. They are queueing for the train back to Lviv.

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The situation in Ukraine as of Saturday
The situation in Ukraine as of Saturday

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Their motivations are mixed. One couple had been on holiday in Asia when the invasion happened. They’re heading back to be with family who are staying put.

Nearby, Valentina Puzanova only came to Poland to bring her elderly mum and young son to safety. Now she will head back to be with her husband. “It’s my home…” she tells me.

The Bilechenko family – mum, dad and four children – arrived in Poland two weeks ago. It provided them some sense of safety.

But now, the draw to be back home outweighs the considerable risk they know they will face.


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