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As some refugees head to Poland for safety, others cannot ignore the call of ‘home’

by Mark Stone, in Przemysl, Poland

At the Polish border with Ukraine, we found strong emotions among refugees fleeing their country. But to our surprise, we found many, including women and children, returning to Ukraine.

Przemysl is a Polish town a few kilometers from the border with Ukraine. In recent weeks it has been a center of activity and the beating heart of Polish national solidarity with their neighbors to the east.

The train station is where you will find most of the refugees. They arrive on platform 5 of the daily train from Lviv to Ukraine.

Among them, we saw the teenager Sonia (photo on the left), with her young cousin, buying a train ticket to take them to Poland.

Through our interpreter, she told me she was from Kharkiv, the broken city in eastern Ukraine. In broken English, she explained how devastated her home is now.

And provides insight into the relatable judgments families are forced to make.

She explains that her mother, who is elderly, stayed in Kharkiv but also that they have a lot of pets. The family’s decision had been that her mother would stay with the animals.

Nearby, an old man sits in despair. His name is Anton and his story is bittersweet. His hometown, Sumi, is destroyed. After days of hiding in the basement with his wife, he explains, they managed to get out.

He sobs as he remembers the escape. But they have five grandchildren in Germany – a reunion with them in the coming days keeps him alive.

On the other side of the station, a surprise. A long line of Ukrainians going the other way. They are queuing for the train back to Lviv.

Their motivations are mixed. A couple were vacationing in Asia at the time of the invasion. They return to be with the family who stays behind.

Nearby Valentina Puzanova (pictured above, speaking to Mark) only came to Poland to bring her elderly mother and young son to safety. Now she will return to join her husband. “This is my house…” she told me.

The Bilechenko family – mum, dad and four children – arrived in Poland two weeks ago. This gave them a certain sense of security.

But now the draw of being back home outweighs the massive risk they know they will face.

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