War in Ukraine From one war to another: the return of refugees in Israel to Ukraine

"If I must die, at least let it be in my country

War in Ukraine From one war to another: the return of refugees in Israel to Ukraine

"If I must die, at least let it be in my country." Like Tetiana Kocheva, Ukrainians who found refuge in Israel after the Russian invasion decided to return to their country, despite the war, to flee the conflict with Hamas.

When Russian troops invaded Ukraine at the end of February 2022, Tetiana, 39, and her three children, now aged 14, 10 and 3, lived in Kharkiv (northeast), near the border with Russia.

Kharkiv was one of the first targets of Russian bombing in Ukraine. Tetiana and her children were hidden for ten days in a basement.

In July 2022 they left Ukraine to go to Israel, where her husband worked. "I thought we would stay three months and then return," "but the war is not over." The family settled in Ashkelon, a city in southern Israel, near Gaza.

On October 7, the day of the bloody attack by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas launched from Gaza into Israeli territory, "my hands started to shake and I had the same feeling that I felt at the moment the war started in my country," he says. Tetiana.

He describes the "endless" noise of the sirens, "the explosions that do not stop," the nights in the shelters with the children.

"When [the conflict] intensified (...) I panicked, I was afraid and I realized that I needed to return home," explains the woman. The family was evacuated to central Israel, where they stayed for a few days, before embarking on their return to Ukraine, where they arrived on October 20. They settled again in Kharkiv.

This city is regularly the target of Russian bombing, but for just under a year it is no longer threatened with occupation.

Since October 7, some 4,000 Ukrainians have fled Israel, according to figures from the Ukrainian embassy. "It's my homeland, my flag, I don't know how to express it, I'm happy" to have returned, says Tetiana. "If I have to die, at least it is in my country," she adds resignedly.

About 400 kilometers away, in the capital kyiv, eight-year-old Diana dances on dry leaves in a park on the edge of the Dnieper River. The girl and her mother, Anna Lyashko, 28, returned from Israel in mid-October. They had fled Ukraine in March 2022.

At that time they lived in a city occupied by the Russians near kyiv, "where they were under bombs, without electricity, without water, without communications," Anna lists.

"My daughter was very afraid and we decided to go" to Israel, where a cousin of hers lived. The woman thought they would stay "one or two years." But on October 7, "the war broke out there too." "The feelings were the same as on February 24 in Ukraine (...) I looked at my daughter and saw fear in her eyes."

"I understood that we couldn't stay there." She and her daughter left Tel Aviv on October 14, helped by the Ukrainian embassy.

From the center of kyiv, Oksana Sokolovska, 39, also says she is "happy to have returned home," although "it is difficult to leave one war for another."

She left Ukraine with her three children on March 16, 2022. She chose Israel because she "thought it was the safest country in the world." The family settled in Rishon Le Tzion, near Tel Aviv.

When the Hamas attack began, "the air warning sirens sounded, the massive bombing began" and "we stayed in the bomb shelter with the children all day," he says.

He quickly decided to leave Israel, "so as not to risk the lives of my children," and they boarded a plane on October 14. "Currently the situation is calmer in kyiv and its region than in Israel (...) This is the only reason I came back," he admits.