I RETURNED TO UKRAINE: why a Kyiv-based consultant chose to return home
Artwork: Olena Burdeina (FA_Photo) via Photoshop
Six million Ukrainians are fleeing the war outside Ukraine. A little more than four of them are in the EU countries. This was told by the scientist-demographer Ella Libanova. And every year of stay abroad is not in favor of returning home.
Even now, many of those who left are not planning to return after the end of hostilities. But there are also those who have decided to return to Ukraine. Why? Everyone has their own reasons and forecasts about the future of the country.
Ukraine — is not about territories, it is about people. Therefore, every Ukrainian who has returned to the country gives us back our faith in it. Their way home was neither quick nor easy.
With this publication, we continue our column about those who decided to emigrate, as well as those who left but returned to Ukraine.
Anna Egorova (surname and first name changed at the heroine’s request), 38 years old. She was born in Molodohvardiysk, Luhansk region. Since 2008, lives in Kyiv and works in a consulting company. Since the beginning of the war, she left for Spain. She returned to Kyiv in March 2023.
August 11, 2014, divided my life into before and after. The morning call told me that my mom was gone… She was killed after a mortar attack in the small town of Molodohvardiysk, almost on the very border with Russia.
My mom was gone… I sank to the floor, barely having time to pick up my impressive 8-month pregnant belly. The last thing I saw before I passed out was my husband’s distorted, tear-wet face.
When it is said that babies without a mom are orphans, it is absolutely true. I realized it immediately. In an instant, I turned from a beloved daughter into a woman responsible for a person who had not yet been born but who was already living inside me.
The first year is the hardest. Then the second, third… I learned to live with the dull pain inside. I looked enviously at my friends’ parents, at their care for their grandchildren. I hid in everyday worries, invented things to do, socialized, and laughed. And at night, I howled with helplessness in the arms of my husband, who, like a stone wall, shielded me from hardship.
My father stayed in the occupied territory. Consistently solid and cheerful, he quickly aged and weakened. Our last meeting in 2019 was tough. Saying goodbye, we hugged each other for a long time, not knowing whether we would be able to see each other again. We didn’t. I wasn’t there when the ambulance took him away; I couldn’t calm him down when he was in pain; I wasn’t the one who took care of him like he spent his whole life taking care of me; I wasn’t the one who buried him…
The inability to help a loved one, hug, or pity him penetrates your every cell and lodges a lump in your throat.
Now, many people, just like me, have had similar experiences — when it is almost impossible to convince their parents to leave home and go away. Of course, a video link gives a minor, even if only a tiny, sense of closeness. However, it does not eliminate the feeling of helplessness.
The feeling of hopelessness becomes especially acute when a neighbor in the house where I have lived for 8 years shouts after my car with Luhansk license plates: «You came to Kyiv, learn to drive!» Or the kindergarten teacher, with a condescending smirk, informs me: «People from Donetsk get free tickets to the theater». And you are also endlessly asked unapologetically: «Why haven’t your parents moved in with you yet?».
All these years, I have lived with the constant desire to scream all over Kyiv about how bad I feel. About how unbearable it is to look at the calm life in the capital when every day you hear news from home: a mine exploded near my parents’ summer house; an explosion blew out the windows; my aunt had to be taken to Russia because it was dangerous to stay at home; Chechens are taking cars from locals; a friend was concussed; my brother came under fire at the Izvarino border crossing…
One day, I realized that no one was to blame for my grief. And then I learned to forgive people. I learned to live in a country where war is invisible and inaudible for many people. It was like being in a looking glass: two different lives, two different worlds.
Despite everything, I chose life for myself — to love, rejoice, laugh, and appreciate every moment… I firmly believe that anger and resentment destroy a person from the inside. It is easy to cultivate anger, and it is much more challenging to make a choice in favor of forgiveness.
February 24, 2022 — two worlds united in one terrifying dream.
«Get up, Putin has gone crazy! The war has begun!» — these words from my husband in the sleepy morning darkness were impossible to believe. At 6 a.m., the elevator of our 22-storey building was cracking at the seams — children, suitcases, animals in cages… But no one could get far and fast — kilometer-long traffic jams, cold, panic, lack of fuel at gas stations…
War! Would I really die like my mother? Will my son experience what I’m experiencing? There’s only one thought hammering in my head — run, run fast!
March 6, 2022. A border crossing point from Ukraine to Romania. Like thousands of other Ukrainian children and women, I am on my way to safety, to Europe. One last glance toward Ukraine, where my husband remains, trying to cheer me up with his smile as we say goodbye. An incongruous fence net, horribly reminiscent of a prison zone, now separates peace and war for me.
A friendly checkpoint worker, an exit stamp in my passport, and a cake for tea as a gift — my embarrassment and awkward «thank you». Holding my son’s hand, I go on… Strangers are running towards me, my hands are instantly filled with all kinds of snacks, and my heart — with the usual embarrassment and gratitude. My son’s hand slips out of mine for a moment and then immediately returns but with brand new warm gloves.
I’ve always considered myself a lucky person. I’ve won the lottery many times. I’ve been lucky at board games. But I never thought my luck had no limits.
At the Barcelona Red Cross, we met a considerable number of countrymen. It was comforting — I’m not alone! And at the same time, it was disturbing: how many of us had left! «You’ll be fine, we’ll take care of you, no need to worry», smiling Spanish woman Helena reassured us. After 2 hours of waiting, she was already rushing to me with a printed map, «You are fortunate, you are going to a beautiful place».
In March 2022, my son and I found ourselves in a five-star hotel on the Costa Brava. By April, the cold wind and brief rains had given way to golden sunshine and velvet warm waves. A huge hotel room, delicious food, hot sun, and the coolness of shady palm trees. Involuntarily, you feel that you are on vacation, which lasts not 7 days but … 5 months. What can be more beautiful — you and your child in one of the most picturesque places in the world!
When I was offered to stay with a local family, I took it calmly, again relying on my luck. I was interested in a new experience and gaining stability, as no one knew how long we would be able to stay in the hotel. After consulting with my husband, we decided that this was the most sensible option in our situation.
So the doors opened, and a Spanish couple walked in. When they said they were ready to take me and my son in, we all had tears spurting from our eyes at the same time — theirs from pity for us and mine from shame. I asked: «Why are you helping us? What motivates you?» And they answered that as soon as they saw women and children fleeing the war on the news, they instantly decided to support at least one family.
It was not the last time we cried together, but the key word here is «together». We did everything together from there — laughing, traveling, learning the language… My gratitude to these people has no limits. They accepted us into their life, into their home, and never, not once, did they emphasize that we were refugees/resettlers/migrants from the war.
We became members of their family. Endless traveling, gifts, outings, holiday meals. Every day, my son and I were surrounded by care and support. I learned calmness from them. I learned to appreciate every moment. I found the family I so desperately needed.
I learned the language quickly; my son went to the local school, and I was busy with my favorite job. On weekends we visited museums and concerts. I was able to enjoy all the benefits of a peaceful Spanish life.
But my heart was breaking into a million pieces because my husband was not there for me, because we had been apart for a year… I was enjoying the beauty of the world without him. My son met his 8th birthday without his father. I lived in hope — tomorrow the war will end, tomorrow it will be safe, tomorrow we will come home.
On March 6, 2023, I stopped waiting for tomorrow. I returned to my home to build my life myself, to be together with the people I cared about the most.
To live in fighting Ukraine is not to be afraid of shelling but to react to alarms; to read a million chats at once; to be proud of being brave; to cry suddenly at the sight of the military; to help those in need; to spend without regret; to rejoice in the sunshine and flowers at the doorstep.
I don’t judge women who have chosen to live there — where they are paid in euros, where it is warm and safe, where there are opportunities and prospects for children.
Everyone chooses the best life for themselves. For me, the best life is with my beloved husband. It is the tranquility of the family hearth. It is the joy of communicating with each other. It is the confidence in the future that they are trying to take away from us ruthlessly.
I forgive my enemies. They are not worth my attention, and I will not give the war a single minute of my life. When I returned home, I plunged headlong into everyday life, into what, before the war, I had considered routine. Now, we are improving our home in complete confidence that everything will be fine.
I believe in Ukraine. I believe that good always triumphs over evil. That is why I am already planning a route through our country. We will drive along it together with my Catalan family. We will start with our favorite Odesa: we will ride our bikes along the health route, drink delicious tea in the «Buffet», and visit the Opera House in the evening.
After Odesa — to my mother-in-law in Vinnytsia region: we will make strawberry jam and drink delicious water from the well. Next — a tour of Lviv, beer tasting, buying the most beautiful handmade souvenirs. And in the end — climbing the mountain Pip Ivan.
I plan two different trips a year. Because Ukraine is a fantastic country with an incredible number of fabulously beautiful places.
I live in anticipation of a miracle.
And in constant hope… to bring flowers to my parents… in my native Molodogvardiysk.