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At the train station in Przemysl, just inside Poland near the Ukraine-Poland border, passengers wait to board a train to Kyiv on March 12. Among the crowd are men returning to fight as well as civilians who fled the initial violence during the invasion but who have now decided to return home.

At the train station in Przemysl, just inside Poland near the Ukraine-Poland border, passengers wait to board a train to Kyiv on March 12. Among the crowd are men returning to fight as well as civilians who fled the initial violence during the invasion but who have now decided to return home. (Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

PRZEMYSL, Poland — Two days after fleeing to Poland from a war that has devastated their city, three generations of Sinitsyna women boarded a train back into Ukraine on Saturday night.

Zhanna Sinitsyna, the grandmother, was afraid to return home to Mykolaiv, one of several Ukrainian cities under fierce bombardment by Russian forces. But the trio had been unable to find a place to sleep in Poland, and she hadn’t felt right since she left.

“In my soul, Mykolaiv is my home,” said the 49-year-old woman, who was wrapped in a blue shawl to keep warm while waiting for a delayed train from Kyiv outside the Przemysl train station, near the Poland-Ukraine border. “And I need to be home.”

The Sinitsynas would join the 220,000 Ukrainians who have returned to the country in the past two weeks, according to Ukraine’s border guard. On Saturday evening, the Sinitsynas were three of more than 100 people, mostly Ukrainians, waiting in line at the station to board a train for Kyiv.

Their reasons for heading back to Ukraine varied. Some happened to be traveling abroad when the war started and were eager to get back. Others lived abroad and had wanted to get paid one more time before returning to their homeland. After hearing President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s calls for foreign fighters and Ukrainians to enlist in the war, many were going to fight.

As they stood in line, the three women were surprised that so many people were also heading straight into a brutal war.

The two younger Sinitsynas — Nadiia, 30, and her 12-year-old daughter, Kira — didn’t want to go home. On their journey out of Ukraine, the family saw explosions and heard shootings. Nadiia said she was scared for Kira’s safety, and she hoped to find work in the western Polish city of Poznan so she could send money home to Mykolaiv, where there is none.

But the only free places to sleep were far from the city, which meant they would also be far from any work. Everything else was too expensive. Kira enjoyed being abroad for the first time in her life and had hoped to wait out the war for a couple of months in Poland.

The eldest Sinitsyna persuaded them to go back.

Still, Zhanna worried about returning home near the country’s second-largest nuclear power plant, which Ukrainian officials warned could become a Russian target. But her 19-year-old son and husband were still there, defending the city, and she wanted to be there to support them and her community however she could.

Vira Lapchuk waits to board a train to Kyiv at the Przemysl train station. She's returning to Ukraine because she feels her family and community need her back home.

Vira Lapchuk waits to board a train to Kyiv at the Przemysl train station. She's returning to Ukraine because she feels her family and community need her back home. (Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

A few people down from the three generations of women, 52-year-old teacher Vira Lapchuk chatted with her friends. Lapchuk also fled after the war started, when her school paused class in the western Ukrainian city of Rivne. Her son in Poland convinced her it was safer to come stay with him, even though the war had not yet arrived in her city, so she did.

After more than a week away from her home, she realized she needed to return.

“I feel no fear,” Lapchuk said, though she does feel “despair” for her city and country. Shivering slightly, Lapchuk said she hoped to return to her work with her students, who she felt needed her to bring a sense of calm.

So far, no one she knows has been hurt or injured in the war. While her city remains safe, she said she feels it is her duty to help those in danger or children who are afraid. She wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like as she headed back Saturday night, but she said she would be expecting the unexpected.

Scattered throughout the line of mostly women and children were young and middle-age men traveling by themselves. One carried a big hiking bag on his back. Another leaned over the railing of the stairs to the station, scrolling endlessly through his phone. A third, Oleksii Zvieriev, wore a head-to-toe blue and yellow Ukrainian tracksuit, shoes and hat.

Zvieriev is from Brovary, a suburb of Kyiv. The day Russia invaded Ukraine, he was working, driving a truck across Europe. But he made up his mind: He was going to go back to fight as soon as the job was done. Saturday was that day.

“It’s hard to talk about the emotions of going back into a war,” Zvieriev said. “I have friends sitting in basements telling me they’re hearing explosions all the time. I can’t stop worrying.”

Oleksii Zvieriev, 35, waits to board a train to Kyiv at the Przemysl station. He is returning to Ukraine to fight in the war against Russia.

Oleksii Zvieriev, 35, waits to board a train to Kyiv at the Przemysl station. He is returning to Ukraine to fight in the war against Russia. (Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

In the early days of the war, he heard that two of his friends who had joined the fight were killed. One was 25. The other was 40.

He agonized from his truck about not being there for them. But more so, he said, he worried that he wasn’t there for his family as their world fell apart. He worried about the people in Mariupol, who were running out of food and water.

He said he couldn’t wait to get back to join the national guard.

As the train delay continued, a baby cried from the cold. Kira Sinitsyna clasped her hands tightly around a hot chocolate. An aid worker started to sing and play the guitar.

Zhanna Sinitsyna, Kira’s grandmother, looked at the line, then at the waves of people coming off the train she would soon board. They looked exhausted. She was, too. It had taken them one day to get from Mykolaiv to the Polish border not so long ago. As she reenters the war zone, she’s concerned not only for her own family, but for Russian mothers, too. She doesn’t want them to worry about their sons like she and so many of her friends are.

She just wants it to end.

The Washington Post’s Zoeann Murphy contributed to this report.


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