The beige winter coat? “Yes.” And the long-sleeved shirt? “As well.” Also the vest. And the dog’s kibbles as well as his anti-flea collar. Larissa Nesterenko and her two daughters spin around in their small apartment in downtown Toulouse (Haute-Garonne), just to check that they have not forgotten anything. Nothing under the sofa bed where Anastasiia and Sophie slept. Nothing either under the extra bed occupied by the mother. For all three, it is “already” time to pack the bags. After a month right in France, they decided to return home, to Ukraine, on the night of Thursday April 14 to Friday April 15. First by train to Paris, then by bus to Prague (Czech Republic), before a stop in Warsaw (Poland) and finally “the House”Kyiv.
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No one was forcing them to leave. They had a home as long as they wanted in the pink city. Anastasiia, the older of the two girls, had just found a place in a high school. Larissa had resumed giving her French lessons remotely by setting up her computer on the kitchen table. “It is more and more difficult to bear being far from our country, murmurs the mother of the family, making an inventory of the suitcases available in the cupboards. We want to go back to find our daily life, our habits.”
“We want to go back because we miss our country, we miss our city, we miss people.”Larissa Nesterenko, Ukrainian refugee
And the mother of the family quotes the 74-year-old grandmother, who has remained alone in kyiv since the start of the Russian invasion. There is also the cat, Vassilia, which the family entrusted to a neighbour.
Larissa, Sophie and Anastasiia assure that it was not “Not that easy” as a decision. It’s not “not a whim”even less “a madness”. But the withdrawal of Russian troops from around kyiv to redeploy in the east of the country finally convinced them. “Even if there are still alerts, even if we know that the war is not over, it is calmer now in kyiv”, considers the mother of the family.
“It’s a good time to leave. Besides, I saw on the internet images of traffic jams at the entrances to the capital, it’s a sign.”Larissa Nesterenko, Ukrainian refugee
The Nesterenko are indeed not the only ones to redo their bags: of the 4.4 million people who have fled the war to date, more than 500,000 have already returned to the country, advanced in early April the Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior.
Before buying the return tickets, Larissa questioned those around her. What to bring? What to leave? Are there any products in the stores? Can we find bread? And milk? And at what price? The 50-year-old also checked “fifteen times” that his apartment, located in the Pecherska district, was standing. And “fifteen times” the neighbor, Svetlana, to whom she had given a spare key before leaving, replied that “everything was in order”. Larisa has “hurry” to find her 40 m2 that she had never really left for more than a few days since she moved there in 1976. And yet, how many times has she been able to say that she found this accommodation “too dark” and the kitchen “too small” ?
Upon arriving, the mother of the family will spin off to water her hyacinths and tulips. The French teacher will also have to report her return to the administration to fully recover her salary. Also, don’t forget to give the “Babybell” that she promised the neighborhood. Anastasiia, 16, will be able to collapse on her bed again. Sophie, the eldest with brown hair that falls to the bottom of her back, will run to get her cameras in her room, those which could not be taken to France.
Sophie will also try to see her friends again, like Kovalenko, of whom she had no news for several days when he was in Boutcha, a martyred city where dozens of civilian bodies have since been found. To him and to the others, the teenager intends to show her photos taken during these four weeks spent at the other end of Europe. We see her posing in front of the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, Beaubourg, Place du Capitole, along the Garonne, the Seine. We see her take a selfie in front of the Arc de Triomphe or even a grimace in front of the Louvre.
Their relatives back home have warned them: beware of the slap on the way home. The kyiv region had already changed when they fled, but “it’s even worse now”. Will they recognize the Lukianivska metro station, which they used every day, and which was bombed? “Yes, it scares me to go back”, whispers Anastasiia, not serene at the idea of finding the corridor and the parking lot in which she was still lying in early March at each alert. “TAll these horrible stories… in Irpin, Mariupol, Boutcha…” enumerates Sophie, her gaze vague, evoking the abuses, the rapes, the corpses, the mass graves. “If it happens, we’ll find out again worse.”
This is why the mayor of kyiv himself asked the refugees a few days ago not to rush their return, in particular because of the presence of mines. “I know everyone is tired, but listen to the recommendations for everyone’s safety”, said Vitaly Klitschko.
Their desire to leave fizzled, while the city of Toulouse welcomes new refugees every day, surprised more than one. At the Secours populaire, the reception volunteer almost fell out of her chair when setting the next appointment: “Ah, you will have already left? But you have just arrived…” “Too soon, much too soon”also pointed out to them each in turn Arnaud, Isabelle, Muriel, Juliette, Marc, Sylvie, Laure and Emma, French people met a little by chance and who struggled to help them.
“We asked them the question twenty times, we got the same answer twenty times. We don’t see the urgency to go back. They do. We can’t hold them back by force.”Arnaud, a Frenchman who helped the Nesterenkos
Isabelle Lefort approached the Ukrainian embassy in France to take instructions, she also inquired on a Facebook group: “UUkrainian family wishes to return to kyiv. What would be your advice?” She also tried hard to hold back Larissa and her two daughters: “How about waiting a few days? The end of the month, for example, to see more clearly?” Nothing to do : “We leave.” “And if he something happens to you on the way?” Rebelote: “We leave”. “Sure?” “Sure.”
Over the past few days, Laure has toured the pharmacies in her town so that Sophie, who is diabetic, can leave with “three months of insulin, just in case”. She and the others also slipped in some coins and bills, “just in case, always”. They all made a promise to each other: to give each other regular updates during the trip. Children will talk to each other on Instagram, adults on WhatsApp.
During a farewell meal on Saturday evening, Arnaud told them again: “You know it: if you want to come back, you come back.” Larissa ensures that “it should be fine because the Russians are gone.” She still wants to convince herself: “What do you think? Can they come back to kyiv?”