After a month in France, the Nesterenko family ‘comes home’ because ‘we miss our country’

The beige winter coat? “Yes.” And the long sleeve shirt? “Also.” Also the vest. And the dog’s kibble as well as his anti-flea collar. Larissa Nesterenko and her two daughters twirl around their small apartment in downtown Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) just to make sure they haven’t forgotten anything. Nothing under the sofa bed where Anastasiia and Sophie slept. Nothing under the mother’s extra bed either. It is for all three “already” Time to pack the bags. After a month directly in France, they decided to return home to Ukraine on the night of Thursday April 14th to Friday April 15th. First by train to Paris, then by bus to Prague (Czech Republic), before a stop in Warsaw (Poland) and finally “the house”Kyiv.

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Nobody forced her to go. They had a home as long as they wanted in the pink city. Anastasiia, the older of the two girls, had just found a place in a high school. Larissa had once again given her French lessons remotely by placing her computer on the kitchen table. “It’s getting harder and harder to bear the distance from our country, the mother of the family murmurs and makes an inventory of the suitcases placed in the closets. We want to go back to find our daily life, our habits.”

“We want to go back because we miss our country, we miss our city, we miss the people.”

Larisa Nesterenko, Ukrainian refugee

at franceinfo

And the mother of the family cites the 74-year-old grandmother, who has remained alone in Kyiv since the Russian invasion began. There is also the cat Vassilia, which the family entrusted to a neighbor.

Larissa, Sophie and Anastasiia assure that this was not the case “Not so easy” as a decision. It is not “no mood”even less “a madness”. But the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Kyiv area for deployment in the east of the country eventually won them over. “Even if there are still warnings, even if we know that the war is not over yet, it’s quieter in Kyiv now.”, looks at the mother of the family.

“It’s a good time to leave. I’ve also seen pictures of traffic jams at the entrances to the capital on the internet, that’s a sign.”

Larisa Nesterenko, Ukrainian refugee

at franceinfo

That Nesterenko In fact, they are not the only ones packing their bags: of the 4.4 million people who fled the war, more than 500,000 have already returned to the country, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry said in early April.

Sophie, Anastasiia and their mother Larissa, April 8, 2022, at their home in Toulouse (Haute-Garonne).  (RAPHAEL GODET / FRANCEINFO)

Before buying the return tickets, Larissa surveyed her surroundings. what to bring leave what Are there products in the stores? can we find bread And milk? And at what price? The 50-year-old also checked “fifteen times” that his apartment was in the Pecherska district. and “fifteen times” the neighbor Svetlana, to whom she had given a spare key before her departure, replied “Everything was in order”. Larissa A “Hurry” to find her 40 m2, which she had never really left for more than a few days since moving in in 1976. And yet, how many times could she say that she found this shelter too dark” and the kitchen “too small” ?

Upon arrival, the mother of the family will go out to water her hyacinths and tulips. The French teacher must also report her return to the administration in order to get her salary back in full. Don’t forget to give them too “baby bell” that she promised the neighborhood. Anastasiia, 16, will be able to collapse on her bed again. Sophie, the eldest with brown hair that falls to her back, will run to get her cameras in her room, the ones that couldn’t be taken to France.

Sophie will also try to see her friends again, like Kovalenko, from whom she had no news for several days when he was in Boutcha, a martyr town where dozens of civilians have since been found. The teenager wants to show him and the others the photos she took during these four weeks at the other end of Europe. We see them posing in front of the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, Beaubourg, Place du Capitole, along the Garonne, the Seine. We see her taking a selfie in front of the Arc de Triomphe or even grimacing in front of the Louvre.

Above, Sophie Nesterenko shares a photo on her phone taken in front of the Arc de Triomphe.  Below she poses in front of her home in Toulouse.  (RAPHAEL GODET / FRANCEINFO)

Her relatives at home warned her: Beware of the slap on the way home. The Kyiv region had already changed when they fled, but “Now it’s even worse”. Will they recognize the Lukianivska metro station they used every day that was bombed? “Yes, it scares me to go back” Anastasiia whispers, unperturbed by the thought of finding the corridor and parking lot where she was lying at the beginning of March every time the alarm goes off. TAll these terrible stories… in Irpin, Mariupol, Boutcha…” Sophie lists them with a vague look and recalls the abuse, the rapes, the corpses, the mass graves. “If it happens, we will find out again worse.”

Therefore, a few days ago, the mayor of Kyiv himself urged the refugees not to rush their return, especially because of the presence of mines. I know everyone is tired, but listen to everyone’s safety advice.”, said Vitaly Klitschko.

Sophie and Anastasiia try on clothes at the Secours Populaire in Toulouse (Haute-Garonne), April 8, 2022. (RAPHAEL GODET / FRANCEINFO)

Her desire to leave fizzled as the city of Toulouse welcomes new refugees every day, surprising more than one. At the Secours populaire, the receptionist almost fell off her chair when setting the next appointment: “Ah, you’ll be gone already? But you’ve only just arrived…” “Too soon, way too soon”She also pointed out, one after the other, Arnaud, Isabelle, Muriel, Juliette, Marc, Sylvie, Laure and Emma, ​​French people who met a little by chance and who tried to help them.

“We asked them the question twenty times, we got the same answer twenty times. We don’t see the urgency to go back. They do it. We cannot hold them back by force.”

Arnaud, a Frenchman who helped the Nesterenkos

at franceinfo

Isabelle Lefort contacted the Ukrainian embassy in France for instructions, she also inquired on a Facebook group: “uUkrainian family wants to return to Kyiv. What would be your advice?” She also tried hard to restrain Larissa and her two daughters: “How about you wait a few days? The end of the month, for example, to see more clearly?” Unrelated to : “Partially.” “And if he what happens to you on the way?” rebel: “We leave”. “For sure?” “For sure.”

In the last few days, Laure has been touring the pharmacies in her town so that Sophie, who is diabetic, can go with her “three months of insulin, just in case”. She and the others also put in some coins and bills, “just in case, always”. They all promised each other: to regularly catch up on news during the trip. Children talk on Instagram, adults on WhatsApp.

Larissa, Anastasiia and Sophie Nesterenko in Toulouse (Haute-Garonne), April 8, 2022, accompanied by Arnaud, Emma and Juliette.  (RAPHAEL GODET / FRANCEINFO)

During a farewell dinner on Saturday night, Arnaud once again told them: “You know it: If you want to come back, you come back.” That assures Larissa “It should be fine because the Russians are gone.” She still wants to convince herself: “What do you think? Can they come back to Kyiv?”

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