People who fled the fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine are now returning, both to towns under the control of the Kyiv government and to territories held by Russian troops, Euronews reported. Testimonies suggest that returnees prefer the risks of living at home to the uncertainty of displacement.
“Dozens of thousands” Ukrainians who had been evacuated from the Donetsk region at the start of the conflict have since returned, the Russian-language service of Euronews reported on Monday. According to the mayor of Pokrovsk, some 70% of the evacuees have recently returned to the city, which is in territory controlled by Ukraine but claimed by the Donetsk People’s Republic.
“We were fed, there was food, but it was temporary. And then we were told to go to a nursing home. My son did not want Tamara Markova, 82, told the outlet. She and her son Nikolay spent less than a week in Dnepr before deciding they’d rather try their luck back home.
Karina Smulskaya, 18, now works as a waitress to support her entire family.
“I understand that being in the city is very risky. But if you leave… Who’s waiting for us there? Who needs us there? And we have to make money! she told Euronews.
Pokrovsk, formerly known as Krasnoarmeysk, is about 60 kilometers from the front lines near the city of Donetsk.
Moscow offers Russian citizenship to residents of regions under its control. The kyiv government has responded by proposing a law that could see Ukrainians who apply for Russian citizenship jailed for up to 15 years. Despite this, some people choose to return to Russian-held territories like Zaporozhye.
According to Euronews, up to 200 cars pass through the Ukrainian army’s only checkpoint to the south of Zaporozhye every day. Some people wait up to 10 days for permission to cross. Ukrainian troops warn them of possible danger and inspect the cars for weapons and extra fuel, then reluctantly let them through.
Few returnees are willing to talk to reporters, choose their words and prefer to remain anonymous. Some say they want to reunite with their families and look for work, adding that jobs are scarce in Ukrainian-held territory.
“My mother and my sister live there” one person said at the outlet. “If they don’t disturb or provoke [the Russians]they can live more or less well.
The UN estimates that some seven million Ukrainians have been internally displaced due to the conflict. Russia sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, citing kyiv’s failure to implement the Minsk agreements, intended to give the Donetsk and Luhansk regions special status within the Ukrainian state. The protocols, brokered by Germany and France, were first signed in 2014. Former Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko has since admitted that kyiv’s main goal was to use the ceasefire to save time and “to create powerful armed forces.”
In February 2022, the Kremlin recognized the Donbas republics as independent states and demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join any Western military bloc. kyiv insists the Russian offensive was unprovoked.