Sasha and Nastia slowly inhale the smoke from their cigarettes. Their paths have never crossed before, but they exchange knowing glances in wordless understanding when they realise they are both from Ukraine’s Donbas region.
The women, who only gave their first names, are standing in front of the main train station in Przemysl, a Polish border city, where hundreds of refugees arrive daily on trains from the Ukrainian city of Lviv.
Both had fled Ukraine following the Russian invasion of February 24.
But there is more that they have in common.
Back in 2014, when Russian-backed separatists took over territories in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, Sasha and Nastia were among the 1.5 million people who left their homes seeking safety in territories controlled by Ukrainian forces.
The Russian invasion has forced them from their homes again, and this time they are having to look for safe haven outside their country.
“My experience has repeated again. It’s hard to leave everything behind, it’s hard to know that your friends and relatives are in danger,” Sasha says. “War is always the same.”
After fleeing the city of Donetsk in 2014, Sasha, who is now 32 years old, moved to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Shortly after, her family followed suit. They left behind their home and all their belongings.
Sasha says another family moved into their home shortly after they fled, but it’s unclear what is happening with the property now.
This time, too, Sasha took just the most necessary things. The rest stayed in her rented apartment in Kyiv. But she says her second escape has been more difficult.
“We did not expect that war would begin in all of Ukraine, we thought that this time it will end quickly,” says Sasha. “Back in 2014, they shot in the same way but we had more opportunities to flee because there were many places in Ukraine that were safe.”