- Over 10 million Ukrainians were displaced by the invasion, of whom 368,000 fled to Moldova.
- Some refugees return home, either briefly to verify their domicile or for good.
- For some elderly Ukrainians, the thought of dying somewhere other than their homeland is worse than the fear of Russian tanks.
This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.
PALANCA, Moldova — Valentina Garbetz and her family piled out of the car at the Ukraine-Moldova border, shouldered their bags, and headed east.
Not to the west, away from Russia’s murderous assault on their homeland. Not in the west, far from terror, destruction and death on the front lines of Mariupol and kyiv.
But to the east, towards Odessa.
“We are not afraid,” Garbetz said, the wheels of his purple suitcase sliding on the rutted sidewalk at the Ukraine-Moldova border crossing at Palanca. A handbag slung over her shoulder, Garbetz scrambled to follow the other two traveling women. with her, passing a small crowd of westbound Ukrainian refugees awaiting a shuttle to a nearby emergency shelter established by Moldovan authorities.
Garbetz and her family are among a small but steadily growing number of Ukrainian refugees who were evacuated to neighboring Moldova at the start of the Russian invasion but are now returning home. Many only plan to stay briefly, to check on their homes or to pick up clothes more suited to the warm spring weather coming to the two former Soviet republics.
Others say they are tired of living in fear and are confident that the Ukrainian military will eventually prevail, thanks in part to weapons, supplies and intelligence provided by the United States and others. allies.
More than 10 million Ukrainians have been displaced by the invasion, with around 3.5 million refugees fleeing the country for western neighbors Poland, Romania or Moldova, according to UN officials. According to the Moldovan border police, 368,000 Ukrainians fled to Moldova, and 101,000 of them remained in the country, one of the poorest in Europe.
But as the war approaches its first month, some refugees are willing to risk returning home.
“Our people are being killed”:Ukrainians flee to tiny, impoverished Moldova as Russia steps up attacks
Garbetz and his family have been staying with an extended family near Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, but after more than two weeks away they decided it was time to return home. Border officials at Palanca said that for security reasons they could not discuss the number of Ukrainians returning from Moldova, but international aid workers confirmed that the number of people crossing to the east is increasing every day. Most of the refugees from Ukraine are women and children, as most men of military age have been banned from leaving to bolster national defence.
“All we have is here”
On Tuesday, evacuee Kristina Logvinova waited to return to Ukraine, idling in her BMW SUV as she waited for Moldovan border officials to check her papers. Logvinova evacuated to Chisinau with her husband and baby when the invasion began, but after talking with friends in Odessa she decided it would be safe to risk a brief daytime visit, despite the shelling the day before. . Odessa is about 35 miles from the Palanca border post.
“You never know where the explosions will be. I’m nervous but not too much,” said Logvinova, a musician. “A lot of friends who are there say the situation is very normal right now.”
Like many refugees, Logvinova feels guilty for not staying to defend her home, but she has decided her family’s safety comes first: ‘I’m devastated, I can’t stay and help my friends and my country , but my baby is more important.”
Karina Hoderan, an engineer, said she and her family planned to travel to Odessa to collect clothes, but were unsure when they would actually return to Moldova. Maybe immediately. Maybe not.
“Everything we have is there,” she said of their home. “And we’re too tired to be nervous.”
Fleeing west, refugee Liubov Skorobohatykh said she thinks it makes no sense for people to return to parts of Ukraine, especially near her home in Mykolaiv, where Ukrainian soldiers patrol the streets and residents fear further attacks. Mykolaiv, about 80 miles east of Odessa, was heavily damaged in the early Russian attacks, but the Ukrainian army counterattacked.
“I will never leave Ukraine”: Full of stoicism and unspoken fear, Ukrainians prepare for battle by saying goodbye to families
On Tuesday afternoon, Skorobohatykh and her son crossed the Moldovan border and boarded a shuttle bus to a nearby refugee processing center. The UN says the Russian invasion has caused the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Among their group was also an old man with no legs, who was carried in the shuttle by volunteers.
“It’s a scary place right now,” Skorobohatykh said, worrying about her sister, who stayed behind. “We were really scared.”
While many refugees have crossed the border after long bus journeys to safety, others are able to cross, their heavily laden cars with distinctive Ukrainian license plates driving west into Moldova and then in Romania and the European Union, passing dilapidated Soviet-era collective farms. and green shoots sticking out of the rich, brown soil.
But for some elderly Ukrainians, the thought of dying somewhere other than their homeland is more disturbing than the fear of Russian tanks. Masha Klinova waited until Tuesday afternoon to fly her 80-year-old mother east to Odessa. Klinova, an international chess champion who now lives in Israel, said her father refused to evacuate and her mother insisted on being sent home because the immediate danger had passed.
Nothing she could say would persuade them otherwise, she said.
“My dad said he wasn’t going anywhere, anytime,” she said. “And my mother wants to live until her death in the homeland.”
Full of stoicism and unspoken fear, Ukrainians prepare for battle by saying goodbye to families