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Thousands Of Ukrainians Living Abroad Return Home To Aid Military Efforts Amid Russian Invasion

Photo: Janossy Gergely / Shutterstock
Ukrainians leaving amid Russian invasion

As hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees flee the country amid a vicious Russian invasion, some men and women are heading in the opposite direction — returning to Ukraine to aid in the efforts to defend their country.

Emigration from Ukraine is common, but for the millions of citizens living abroad, watching people in their homeland take up arms has created a unique sense of responsibility.

On Sunday, Poland's Border Guard said 22,000 people have crossed into Ukraine since the invasion began on Thursday.

NPR spoke to people queuing at the Polish border, awaiting to return to Ukraine to join the army or aid in hospitals.

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One man in the line, a taxi driver named Yaroslav who has been living in Poland for years, jokes that he hopes the line moves quickly as he is 59-years-old and the cut off for conscripts is 60.

He once fought in the Soviet army as a young man and now he is planning to fight against Russia.

Many who spoke to the media only gave their first names, fearing for the safety of their families.

Some in the crowd were returning to family members who had stayed to see the fight through.

This was the case for Lesa, a 36-year-old woman who spoke to AP as she was following her brother back over the border.

"I am afraid, but I am a mother and want to be with my children. What can you do? It's scary but I have to," she said.

The Czech Republic has been offering bonuses for men joining the fight.

The nation, which borders the southwest of Poland, is preparing bonuses to give to Ukrainian families who would lose income if "the men need to join the [Ukrainian] army," Minister Marian Jurecka said.

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Men can take trains free of charge if they are traveling back to Ukraine via Slovakia or Poland.

Estonians, Latvians, Poles and Georgians have also been joining Ukrainians.

Following an appeal from Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky, others have been called up to resist Russia.

“If you have combat experience in Europe and do not want to look at the indecision of politicians, you can come to our country and join us in defending Europe, where it is necessary now,” he said.

Men who have condemned Vladimir Putin’s invasion have flocked to help their European neighbors all while Ukrainians continue to enter bordering countries in pursuit of safe refuge.

According to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, by Sunday, at least 368,000 people had fled Ukraine into Poland and other neighboring countries in the wake of the Russian invasion.

Ukraine desperately needs our support in the face of this humanitarian crisis.

If you want to help provide medical supplies and emergency care to the people of Ukraine, you can donate to the Ukrainian Red Cross here or to United Help Ukraine here. 

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Alice Kelly is a senior news and entertainment editor for YourTango. Based out of Brooklyn, New York, her work covers all things social justice, pop culture, and human interest. Keep up with her Twitter for more.