By Kuba Stezycki
KORCZOWA, Poland – As Ukrainian refugees throng border crossings to flee the Russian invasion, war veteran Dmytro Dovzhenko is headed in the opposite direction from Poland to rejoin his military unit.
The 40-year-old, who fought in Donbass in 2014, told Reuters on Friday that he had left his wife and two children behind and was among some 700 former Ukrainian soldiers in Poland he estimated were returning home to fight.
“My family wasn’t too happy about me leaving,” said Dovzhenko, wearing his military fatigues and a large signet ring inscribed “Loyal Forever” from his marine unit in Ukraine.
“I hope to come back to my family. If I don’t return, I hope everything will be alright.”
Russia has launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine by land, air and sea. Thousands of Ukrainians have begun arriving in neighbouring central European countries.
With missiles pounding the Ukrainian capital on Friday and Russian forces pressing their advance, Dovzhenko cut a calm figure as he smoked a cigarette and prepared to drive across the border on his way into battle.
“Others are either in Ukraine or they are on their way to Ukraine,” Dovzhenko, who runs a foundation for Ukrainian veterans across the European Union, said on the side of the highway. “Lots of cars are going back.”
The former soldier has lived in Poland since 2019 but has prepared for weeks to return home at a moment’s notice if Russia invaded.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Veterans has said there were no statistics on how many veterans from the conflict that started in 2014 were abroad. But there are 420,000 people registered as having once defended Ukraine.
Dovzhenko said he did not know how many veterans across Europe would return but he predicted thousands of former soldiers would find a way home to face Russian troops.
“To the beginning of Ukraine and the beginning of the war, we drive,” said Dovzhenko before honking his car horn and driving off to cross the border. “I hope I will be back and I hope Russia will be destroyed.”