When I came home, it was as if I had never left

On the 1st of March 2022, I found myself in Prague, fleeing the war in my country. The 20th of June 2023 was the day I came home for the first time since the war in Ukraine began. How did I come to this decision? It was tough. To be more precise, the decision was made quite quickly, the tickets were bought within half an hour, but then, when the excitement faded a bit, a lot of thoughts started coming into my head. How long will I be standing at the border between Moldova and Ukraine? What is the situation back home in terms of missile attacks? And what if I am not so lucky? Let’s go through everything in order.

To be honest, before this trip I hadn’t planned on coming home until the war was over. I really didn’t want to see my hometown, Odessa, in a state of war – I wished to remember it as it was. However, I hadn’t seen my parents for six months since they came to Prague for Christmas in 2022, so I missed them. It was a coincidence that a close friend of mine, who had also fled the war to another country, decided to come home to visit her family at the same time as I would. This encouraged me to stop overthinking and buy the tickets so I wouldn’t change my mind again.

How did I travel from Prague to Odessa under war conditions? 

All Ukrainians travelling to their relatives and friends back home know that this journey is not an easy one. In order to get from Prague to Odessa, I had to first fly to Chisinau via Vienna, and from there I had to get farther by car. There are various options of routes, but this one seemed the best to me in terms of budget and time. In total, it took me 12 hours to get back home. I was very lucky that the driver was familiar with the situation at the border crossings in Moldova, so I can say that I made the road quickly.

Emotions on arriving home 

When I was approaching Odessa by car, it was almost night. I immediately started to explore the dark streets, looking for familiar places from my childhood. Throughout the journey, we were chatting with the taxi driver who was taking me from Moldova to Odessa. As soon as we entered the city, he started asking me how I felt and whether I missed my home. Of course I did. But if you took all my emotions at that moment and transformed them into an object, it would be a tangle of threads. Confusion, homesickness, longing to see my loved ones, happiness and sadness all at the same time. As I approached home, I decided to film a little video of my parents greeting me. Just to remember. Later, I continued to document all the moments of this small, but so cozy and memorable trip. My parents welcomed me home, almost crying. I felt the same.

How did I spend 4 days in Odessa? 

I really enjoy scheduling everything, so each day I spent at home was broken down into hours using Google calendar. The must-do tasks included medical check-ups, meetings with friends, and even a few shootings for the cafe I had previously worked for while living in Odessa. In between all these plans, I found an hour to walk around my favorite city and remember some familiar places. What has changed since I left? There were far fewer people, as many had moved away. The aftermath of the attacks on Odessa was visible in the destructed buildings, and as I was walking through the city, I saw many military personnel on the way. A lot was different – but not the people! 

The people of Odessa have always been famous for their ability to adapt and enjoy life no matter what. Now I know for sure that these were not just legends. The beach area was closed off and swimming was forbidden. Still, people were sunbathing on a small patch of sand – because for the residents of Odessa, summer and the sea are inseparable. Odessa is also all about the market culture. Yes, war is war, but there were still grandmothers on the markets, selling seasonal fruit and vegetables. 

And the restaurants! I have always loved telling the Czechs about the gastronomic culture of my city. People in Odessa have adapted to work, no matter what. When I was in Odessa, I made a small gastronomic tour, and now I know that our people can’t be broken. Why exactly? The food is still just as great as it was before the war, the girls still wear beautiful dresses and go out to the restaurant as if on holiday, and the waiters are still as good at joking and communicating like they are your good old friends.

However, there were some negative experiences as well. I did not escape the air raids and was woken up several times during the night by them. According to the rules, you must go down to the bomb shelter when you hear an air raid. My parents, like many Odessa residents, were already used to the alarms – but I wasn’t, of course. It is not something you should get used to, but people want to live a normal life, no matter what. 

Was it worth it to come home during the ongoing war?

Definitely. When I came home, it was as if I had never left. I love the Odessans for making me feel this way, no matter the circumstances. I was incredibly happy to see my family and friends, and now I’m not afraid to come to Odessa again before the end of the war. All those short but so precious moments with my loved ones were definitely worth the whole complicated journey. Also, I saw the main symbol of Odessa – the sea – and bought my very first vyshyvanka (a traditional embroidered shirt)!


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