A year has passed since Russia invaded Ukraine, resuming a war no one could have expected to last this long. So far more than 8 million people have fled Ukraine, many of them through Przemyśl, an old Polish town located 10 kilometers from the border. In march 2022, I went there when the number of people crossing the border was at its highest, at approximately 140.000 people per day. At the train station people arrived constantly, most of them being women and children. Mothers kept their children close, slightly trembling in the cold evening. Many of them had to leave their husbands and male relatives behind, due to the general mobilization forbidding men from 18 to 60 years old to leave the country.

While many refugees crossed the border to Poland with intentions of staying there until the war came to an end, others had no idea where to go. At the main station in Przemyśl people waited for busses, trains or cars to take them to other European countries. In search of a better future, some of them got on trains without knowing their destination.

“No one knows when this war will end or whether it will end at all.” 

Dasha Bolkvadze, then 37, looked for her black cat between the rows of colourful daybeds. She and around a hundred other Ukrainians were accommodated in a gym hall at a primary school in Przemyśl. The large room, usually echoing the sounds of Polish schoolchildren playing, was their temporary home until they knew where to go. 

Dasha and her mother, husband and teenage son used to live in Kharkiv and she told me about the first time Russian military moved in close to her city in 2014.

“Last time Russia annexed Ukrainian territories it was in a more civilized way with minimal casualties. Now there is a full-scale war in my country. In Kharkiv it was hell. Many of my friends stayed there in hope for the best. But it only gets worse.”

Dasha and her family spent almost a year in Poland, but recently moved to England, where they have a residents permit until 2025. Her son has the opportunity to study there, and Dasha works in a nail salon. When I met her, Dasha hoped to return to her country someday. When she pulled up her shirt, the Ukrainian coat of arms showed on her ribs. A year later, though her country is forever manifested in her skin, her hope of returning has faded due to the ongoing invasion. She still has friends and relatives in Ukraine, but they live a difficult life. 

“Even if I have no possibility of staying in England, I’m not thinking about returning. No one knows how long it will take for the cities to be restored. I don’t want my child to live in post-war conditions. He has the right to a normal life.”

In a parking lot outside a closed Tesco, busses arrived every ten minutes with people who just crossed the border. Somewhat isolated from the large groups of refugees, volunteers and the press, Nastya, 13, just arrived from Ukraine. She was alone and waiting for her mother who worked in Poland to come pick her up. Her father was still in Ukraine.

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