'What Hasn't Russia Tried At This Point?': Why Brave Ukrainians Are Returning Home

The "strange new normal" has not stopped the displaced heading back to war-torn cities.
Oleksandra Povoroznyk is a 28-year-old journalist and translator
Oleksandra Povoroznyk is a 28-year-old journalist and translator
Oleksandra Povoroznyk

Oleksandra Povoroznyk left her home in Kyiv towards the start of the war, but now she – and her family – have gone back.

And a year after the conflict broke out, the three Ukrainians have no plans to leave again, even as Russia is expected to launch a renewed attack to mark 12 months since it first invaded.

The 28-year-old did not leave her home country when war broke out but moved to the western Ternopil, which is a couple of hours away from the better-known city of Lviv.

Both areas are far away from the Russian-Ukrainian border and less likely to fall victim to the indiscriminate air strikes – which have often fallen on civilian towns – so many displaced Ukrainians sought refuge there shortly after Putin ordered his invasion.

But, as Oleksandra explains, even war couldn’t keep her family away from her real home in Kyiv.

She told HuffPost UK how the Ukrainian capital had transformed in the last year.

Why move back?

Oleksandra, who works as a journalist and translator, said: “To be honest, we weren’t even planning on returning to Kyiv for much longer, but my husband drove back to the city for a weekend to see our family late last spring and ended up deciding to stay a while longer and then somehow ended up not going back to Ternopil after all.

“We spent some time in the suburbs after that, since it seemed easier to live in a house with a generator while the power outages were happening almost every day, but in the end we missed our own apartment and the city too much and moved back to Kyiv.”

How has it all changed?

Oleksandra shared a series of photos which she described as “mementos” she took for sentimental reasons, but they also show how life in Kyiv has evolved into a new normal.

A view from Oleksandra’s window, February 2022 (pre-invasion)

The view from Oleksandra's window from exactly a year ago (February 23, 2022)
The view from Oleksandra's window from exactly a year ago (February 23, 2022)
Oleksandra Povoroznyk

A downtown monument now barricaded away to protect it from potential missile attacks

A Kyiv monument which has now been barricaded off to protect it from missile strikes (Summer 2022)
A Kyiv monument which has now been barricaded off to protect it from missile strikes (Summer 2022)
Oleksandra Povoroznyk

Seemingly harmless areas, like this square in Kyiv, are scattered with objects of war – Russian tanks

Oleksandra Povoroznyk

A pastry shaped like a Czech hedgehog, also known as an anti-tank device

Oleksandra says: “You can spot them all over Kyiv these days.”

Oleksandra Povoroznyk

The autumn blackouts where only stores or cafes with generators could keep their lights on

Oleksandra Povoroznyk

A square in central Kyiv, usually reserved for Christmas markets, has become a memorial for soldiers who died defending Mariupol

Oleksandra Povoroznyk

A ‘strange new normal’

So, what’s life actually like in the capital of Ukraine right now?

“I think we’re pretty much settling into a strange new normal now, since all of Russia’s recent attacks on our infrastructure haven’t done too much damage and their threats to freeze us have, thankfully, turned out to be empty,” Oleksandra.

“So Kyiv is slowly becoming more like it’s old self — new restaurants are opening, more people are returning back to the city, and everyone’s pretty much used to the air raid sirens by now.”

But, the war is never too far away.

“From just talking to friends and what I keep seeing on social media (and, obviously, my own feelings), a lot of Ukrainians are feeling understandably emotional right now.”

Oleksandra did stop short of saying people were afraid, though, even as the anniversary of the invasion approaches.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re too scared of what Russia might do on the anniversary of the full-scale invasion, but a lot of us are dealing with very painful memories and everything keeps reminding us of the days leading up to the invasion and how horrifying it all was.

“Of course, some of us are concerned about what might happen on the 24th and prefer to spend the day in the suburbs or even away from the city, and I’d say a lot of Ukrainian employers are very understanding of that and are giving people time off or letting them work remotely.”

She noted that she and her family have no plans to move away anytime soon.

“We’re planning on staying – honestly, we doubt anything horrifically new will happen since what hasn’t Russia tried at this point?

“But our son’s daycare, for example, has asked all of the parents to tell them today if they’re planning on not taking their kids to daycare later this week, and some have said they’ll be out of town.”

How common is it for Ukrainians to return home?

The war triggered one of the largest humanitarian crises on record with almost 20 million people affected through displacement in one form or another.

Oleksandra became one of the estimated 5.4 million internally displaced people in Ukraine when she and her family left Kyiv to go to Ternopil.

Around 8 million Ukrainians also left the country altogether – but even out of those people who fled at the very start of the war, 84% of them always planned to return, according to a UN survey from April last year.

And, more recent data from September suggested that three million had already returned to their home country, even if just for a short stint.

The latest February stats from the UN claim 5.5 million people have now returned to their home areas, both from abroad and within the country.

CEPA (Centre for European Policy Analysis) also noted that in the second half of the year, there was a clear correlation between Ukrainians returning home and Ukraine’s success on the battlefield.

For others it’s family, their own children, job related issues or just hope that the situation in Ukraine has improved.

As a Ukrainian doctor, Viktoriya, explained to the World Health Organisation, many move back because it’s so hard to start a completely new life.

“They are deciding to go back to Ukraine even if their cities are being bombed. Many of them left their houses or farms. They have something there, but here [outside of Ukraine] they have nothing.”


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