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Avellon Williams 

MEDYKA, POLAND – Some Ukrainian men and women are returning home from across Europe to help defend their homeland in the face of the Russian invasion, while hundreds of thousands flee.

Poland’s Border Guard reported Sunday that 22,000 people had crossed into Ukraine since Russian troops invaded the country on Thursday.

Hundreds of people waited early on Sunday at the checkpoint in Medyka, in southeastern Poland, to enter Ukraine.

Poland’s border guards /Courtesy/

“We have to defend our homeland. Who else if not us?” said a moustachioed man in front of a group of some 20 Ukrainian truck drivers walking to the checkpoint to enter Ukraine. They came from across Europe to return to Ukraine.

Among the group was another man who said:

“The Russians should be afraid.”. We are not afraid.”

Group members refused to give their full names or only gave their first names for reasons of security and their family’s safety.

Having worked on construction sites in Poland for six months, Denis, 28, says he’s returning to Ukraine where his “everything” is.

“I’m on my own here in Poland. Why should I be here? So I go, for the homeland,” said Denis, with a small Ukrainian blue-and-yellow national flag on his winter jacket.

“I want to go back to join the army, to fight. We will see, we hope we will win,“ he said.

Przemysl city /Courtesy/

In the nearby city of Przemysl, Janiel, 27, was also preparing to return. He has been working in construction in Wroclaw, Poland, as an engineer, but was unable to remain when he learned that his homeland was being attacked.

“I cried when I talked to my parents. I just decided to myself that I cannot watch that, that I cannot just stay in Poland and watch Russians destroy our independence, destroy our cities, kill our citizens, kill our children, kill our elderly people,” he told the AP in English.

Approximately 1 million Ukrainians were working or studying in Poland before the recent exodus. Many of these women work as nannies and caretakers for the elderly in the European Union and leave their children at home with grandparents or other relatives.

Lesa, 36, from Lviv, spoke with the AP just before entering the checkpoint building to accompany her brother.

“I am afraid; however, I am a mother and want to be with my children. What can you do? It’s scary but I have to,” she said.

An additional woman, Alina, said she was returning to Ukraine to pick up her children.

“We have to, we Ukrainians have to take our children away … to allow our boys to fight,” she said.

The Ukrainian side of the border is manned by a man who directs those arriving at a place where buses and cars are waiting to take them.

To the southwest of Poland, the Czech Republic has announced plans to provide support to Ukrainian families whose men choose to return home to fight.

Minister Marian Jurecka /Courtesy/

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is preparing bonuses for families that would lose income if “the men need to join the (Ukrainian) army,” Minister Marian Jurecka said.

Ukrainian workers make up the majority of the workforce in the Czech Republic, where there are around 200,000 of them.

Trains for Ukrainian men traveling back to Ukraine are free of charge in Czech railways. In order to reach Ukraine, they must travel through Poland or Slovakia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy /Courtesy/

As Russian troops closed in on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and huge explosions lit up the sky early Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stayed in the capital, boosting the morale of Ukrainian fighters.

Men of military age, 18 to 60, are prohibited from leaving the country, according to Zelenskyy. Foreign volunteers have also been invited by Ukrainian authorities to join their defense.

In Israel, the Ukrainian Embassy posted a call for anyone who wanted to travel to Ukraine to join the fight against Russia. According to the reports, the invitation, marked “Urgent” on the embassy’s Facebook page, was later removed.

In talking about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Israeli leaders are cautious. In addition to the people with roots in Russia and Ukraine, the country seeks good ties with both Moscow and Kyiv.

According to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, at least 368,000 people have fled Ukraine into Poland and other neighboring countries since the Russian invasion began last week.

According to the Polish border guard, more than 156,000 people have crossed into Poland from Ukraine since the invasion began on Thursday, while more than 22,000 have gone in the other direction.

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Avellon Williams