The Current

'That's where I feel safe': Some Ukrainians are returning home despite the threat of war

In the midst of war, some Ukrainians are returning to Kyiv and other areas to try to get their country moving again. They're doing everything they can, from reopening businesses to spreading news about the war to the outside world.

'It's becoming a little bit back to normal,' says former journalist

Chef Volodymyr Yaroslavskyi, left, and podcast host Artem Danylchenko, right, are among some Ukrainians who are returning to their homes as Russian troops pull out of parts of Ukraine. (Submitted by Volodymyr Yaroslavskyi and Artem Danylchenko)

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While civilians in Eastern Ukraine are bracing for more violence, other parts of the country are slowly rising from the ruins.

Shops and businesses are opening up again in cities like Kyiv and Lviv, and people who fled those cities are attempting to return to their homes — and their pre-war lives.

"During the day, we can hear the city flowing back to life quite a bit. People are coming back. More businesses are opening shops as well," former journalist Artem Danylchenko told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"It's becoming a little bit back to normal not right to the time when I left it, but still much closer to it."

Despite the Russian military retreating from some key areas of Ukraine, the eastern part of the country continues to face the full force of war.

In Kramatorsk, citizens are recovering from a missile strike on a train station that killed more than 50 people last week; and those in the port city of Mariupol remain under siege without food, water or electricity.

Safe at home

Danylchenko moved to Germany in February prior to the war breaking out. He got a job at a public relations and communications company in Berlin, and looked to be starting a new chapter in his life.

But he couldn't stand to watch videos and reports of Russian military bombarding his home country while he remained safe living abroad.

"Watching closely almost 24/7 for the first couple of days, it was, of course, heartbreaking to see something like that happening," he said. 

I understood that I may be needed here. Even though I don't have the military experience, but I may help in some other ways.-Artem Danylchenko

At first, Danylchenko expected Russia's military to quickly overwhelm Ukraine, but when that didn't happen after the first week of attacks, he felt his country had a fighting chance — and he needed to return home to support his comrades.

"I understood that I may be needed here," he said. "Even though I don't have the military experience, but I may help in some other ways."

WATCH | Aboard a train with Ukrainians returning home

Aboard a refugee train with Ukrainians heading home

4 months ago
Duration 7:38
Despite the risks, some Ukrainian refugees are returning to the war-torn country — each with their own reasons. They board trains headed east toward areas devastated by war, hoping to reclaim whatever’s left of their country.

One way he's done that is through his podcast, Highlights from Ukraine, a daily summary of the latest news being reported by Ukrainian media.

Danylchenko started the podcast in January. He says he uses it to spread "the truth a little bit about the situation in Ukraine … from a person who is alive in there."

Danylchenko, who still works for the German company remotely, said the fights are ongoing. But nonetheless, he said he feels safe.

"I'm at home," he said. "That's where I feel safe, even though it may not be safe from Russian missiles or anything like that. But still, it's the place where I was born and raised."

'We need to win'

Yaroslavskyi closed his restaurant Lucky at the beginning of the war, but reopened it in late March in order to provide meals for Ukrainians and spark a sense of normalcy. (Submitted by Volodymyr Yaroslavskyi)

Chef Volodymyr Yaroslavskyi can see the signs of normal life returning in Kyiv.

"Every day [there's] going to be more people on the street. Also, spring is coming. Already some flowers [are blossoming] on the street," he told Galloway.

Yaroslavskyi has been a chef for nearly 25 years. He's appeared on Master Chef Ukraine as a judge, and he's been running the Kyiv-based restaurant Lucky for more than six years.

He closed the restaurant after the war started in late February, but continued cooking meals out of the restaurant kitchen. On average, he and his crew cooked 300 meals a day for the military, doctors and territorial defence.

He left Kyiv for Lviv in mid-March to organize a charity breakfast, but returned to Kyiv on March 26. He reopened his restaurant to the public two days later.

"People [were] really happy," he said. "[They're] hugging us, like our staff. It is like a family, a big family now."

Yaroslavskyi said he felt obligated to keep the restaurant open, to pay for his workers and to help support the community.

"People [need] money for salary, money for electricity, for water. So business should [get] started, and who will do it if not me?" he said.

Yaroslavskyi says he currently feels like he's living in two parallel realities between normalcy and "nightmares." But he says he'll continue to do what he can to support his country.

"All Ukrainians [are] now trying to do whatever you can to be [the] winner in this situation — because we need to win," he said.

Written by Mouhamad Rachini. Produced by Arianne Robinson and Joana Draghici.

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