The withdrawal of Russian troops from the Kyiv region has catalyzed a fierce migration back to Ukraine’s most vibrant city. After massive traffic jams of people leaving Kyiv emerged at the start of the war, less than two months later those same traffic jams have returned, but this time in the direction of the capital. Roughly two thirds of people who left Kyiv in late February have already returned, and there are no signs of that slowing down.
During the initial Russian onslaught, many Ukrainians moved out of big cities to villages or smaller towns. A few of my students who were living in the bustling cities of Kharkiv and Kyiv found themselves plumped down in villages across the Poltava, Kinovohrad, Dnipro, and Chernihiv region. Others fled to bigger cities in the west, such as Vinnytsia and Lviv, but many Ukrainians decided that a rural spot would be a safer bet, seeing as big cities might be a more likely target for Russian missiles.
While it may be safer, going from a fast-paced lifestyle in Kyiv to a peaceful village with few amenities may have left some Ukrainians chomping at the bit to go back, even with all of the risks of returning. One of my students, a twenty-four year old in the tech industry, mentioned a few nights ago that many of his friends are making the journey to return. He’s continuing to stay at home in a more rural region with his parents, thinking that Kyiv might not be the safest place to be right now, but his buddies and colleagues don’t seem to be of the same mind.
I don’t blame them one bit. Going from the life of a young professional in a fast-paced capital city to living in a rural village with your parents in the blink of an eye is sure to create a profound sense of loss, emptiness, and boredom. With the Russian military repositioned in the far east and Kyiv opening up again, thousands of Ukrainians are taking the chance to return to their previous life, or at least the closest thing possible.
Of course, not just boredom is motivating this migration. My student said most of all, his friends said they are returning because they simply miss their homes. As someone who was forced to leave Ukraine and is now sitting in a sort of purgatory in Czechia, I too am feeling a sort of primal desire to return to my home and the life that I built around it. I spend a lot of my time daydreaming about my apartment in Uzhhorod – My wife and I were in the never-ending process of decorating when we were forced to leave, and we often talk about going back and picking up where we left off. She and I both on the same page – if the conditions allow it, our primary long-term goal is to make it back to that apartment and continue our life in Ukraine.
I’d imagine that a lot of Ukrainians are feeling a similar way: 79 % of Ukrainians who fled their home want to return, and while the reasons are sure to vary, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people who have had everything taken from them want to take it back. For many residents who left Kyiv in the early stages, they are doing just that.
Although there is some budding optimism, the Ukrainian government is still not recommending that citizens come back just yet. Zelensky himself stated that Russia is likely to attack Kyiv again if they have success in Donbas and that Russians have left tens of thousands of mines throughout Ukraine and the surrounding Kyiv region. However, even with the threat of missiles, mines, and even another push towards Kyiv, many citizens aren’t heeding the president’s advice.
While my student and I will continue to play it safe, I completely understand the people who are choosing to go back to their lives after a few months of internal displacement. I, along with the rest of the free world, just hope above all else that they won’t have to leave again.
Donate to Alliance for Ukraine, an NGO raising funds for medical supplies for the Ukrainian military: https://www.allianceforukraine.org/campaigns/individual-first-aid-kits-ifaks-for-ukraine
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