Vladimir Pavluk approaches the border crossing between Poland and Ukraine as if he was taking a Sunday stroll.
The 26-year-old from Odesa, who labored in Poland as a taxi driver, carries a big rucksack and enjoys the final rays of Polish solar. His girlfriend tightly holds his hand.
“It’s a horrible feeling once they bomb your property,” he says with a relaxed voice. “The conflict began and we’ve got to return. I fought between 2015 and 2019 so I do know what to do. My girlfriend will keep right here.”
A brief brunette in a black hoodie bursts into tears. They stroll away.
For the reason that starting of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, lots of of Ukrainians within the conscription age have been crossing the border to affix the military again residence.
Males from totally different angles of life, totally different ages and ranges of army coaching have determined to depart the protection of the European Union and help Ukraine in opposition to the Russian invasion.
Within the Russian official narrative, those that combat in opposition to the aggression are labelled as Nazis who hate Russia, the Russian tradition and the Russian language.
“We don’t take into consideration that, we all know it’s a lie,” solutions Vitaly, 27, from Zaporozhe in central Ukraine, in impeccable Russian.
“We all know our nation, we all know our authorities, we all know our folks and ourselves. We converse each Russian and Ukrainian. We don’t have an issue with the language.”
Vitaly got here to the Polish border all the way in which from Estonia. He has not been capable of contact his household for the previous 16 hours. He wish to go to his hometown first however he says he’ll go wherever the military wants him most. This shall be his first conflict.
“I’ve by no means fought in my life. I went via a army coaching a very long time in the past, however this isn’t stopping me. There aren’t any phrases to explain how I really feel,” he says.
“We’ve by no means needed to combat, we haven’t invaded anybody, we’re going to defend ourselves. There are sanctions in opposition to Russia however we perceive that there are a lot of issues that our and your leaders don’t say. All we are able to do is mobilise.”
Vitaly isn’t alone. Three of his Ukrainian buddies from Estonia are standing subsequent to him in a queue. They don’t seem to be new to the combat and are able to help their inexperienced pal.
Alexander, 38, fought alongside the Ukrainian military in opposition to Donbas separatists. He’s calm. He is aware of he has no selection however to return to combat.
“I anticipated this to occur. When the embassies acquired evacuated I understood that the conflict would start. I used to be not stunned,” he tells Al Jazeera. “I’m going again to defend my nation, my household, my land.”
They go via the border amid encouraging chants: Slava Ukrainie! Geroyom Slava! [Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!]
Most of these crossing again to Ukraine are of their twenties and thirties. However not Yaroslav. His gray hair and lengthy gray moustache make him seem like the opposite troopers’ grandfather.
His black beret with a pin bearing the Ukrainian flag give his look an aura of authentic eccentricity.
Yaroslav is 59, which implies he’s in his remaining yr of necessary conscription.
“I’m dashing again residence as a result of that is the final name to help the defence effort. I’ve labored in Poland as a driver for six years. Now I’ve determined to return to assist my military,” he says passionately.
“Once I heard concerning the conflict increasing I felt that I’ve to return residence. I by no means fought in any conflict. I used to be within the military again within the Soviet instances so I keep in mind the best way to use the gun.”
Most people gathered on the border admire the braveness and patriotism of the women and men crossing again into Ukraine. Aside from Nikolai. The 59-year outdated, not like Yaroslav, doesn’t suppose he’s fitted to conflict. He watches the conscripts passing by and tears fill his eyes.
He holds a banner that claims “Warsaw”. He provides a free trip to the Polish capital Warsaw to Ukrainians who, like him, determined to flee their homeland. He’s additionally awaiting the arrival of his aged mom who’s the final considered one of his kin to reach into security.
Nikolai was fortunate. He determined to evacuate his household, together with his son and nephews, from Poltava, not removed from the Russian border, simply earlier than the federal government banned males within the conscription age from leaving the nation.
“America has failed us. So I made a decision to take my youngsters from Ukraine and provides them the chance to dwell right here, in order that they don’t need to combat in opposition to tanks and missiles,” he says.
“Younger folks go to Ukraine as cannon fodder. They go there to combat in opposition to planes and tanks. They’ll be killed by missiles. And in the event that they cover within the cellars with weapons, what’s the purpose of all that?”
He believes that Ukraine can win the conflict. However not in case its troopers are confronted by planes and tanks. The previous dentist doesn’t know but what he’ll do in Poland. However he’s sure his shall be a greater destiny than those that return. On twenty third February, the day earlier than the conflict started, his son’s spouse gave beginning in a Polish hospital.
“I inform to all of the boys going again what they’re signing up for,” Nikolai says. “No person will have the ability to defend them.”
However over the previous days, the Ukrainian military has been profitable in deterring Russian forces attacking its important cities. In line with reviews, functions from people who find themselves considering becoming a member of the combat are processed slowly. There are sufficient troopers resisting the enemy.
“Since 2014 we’ve seen a rebirth of patriotism in Ukraine, folks opened their eyes,” says Alexander, the 38-year-old who lived in Estonia. “We’ve realised that Russia isn’t white and fluffy. It could solely convey destruction.”