The last hug: Emotional moment mum says goodbye to daughter and returns to Ukraine

10 March 2022, 17:55 | Updated: 10 March 2022, 20:46

A mother and daughter said goodbye possibly for the last time as the mum heads back to Ukraine.
A mother and daughter said goodbye possibly for the last time as the mum heads back to Ukraine. Picture: LBC
Matthew Thompson

By Matthew Thompson

How would you decide between never seeing your parents again, or your own children?

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An impossible choice, you might think. One that you'd hope never to have to make. But one that the war in Ukraine is forcing on many families, as they decide whether to stay put, or flee.

At the train station in the Polish border town of Przemysl, thousands of refugees pour off trains arriving from the Ukrainian city of Lviv. But the queue for the one train heading in the opposite direction is decidedly smaller.

In it, we meet Rita, and her mother Ruslana. They are Ukrainians, from the city of Mykolaiv, in the South of Ukraine, and firmly in the eye of the storm. Rita lives in Poland, and her mother often comes to visit.

But this time she's come for another reason. To drop off her youngest daughter, and their cat, in the safety of Poland. Having done that, she is heading back. Back to her husband. Back to her own mother. But also back to the Russian bombs.

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"My place is in Ukraine," says Ruslana, speaking in Ukrainian as her daughter translates. "I can't leave my family, but also I'm also organising a psychological helpline for those who need it."

Isn't she scared to go back into that maelstrom? "No. I was scared when my daughter was there, in the thick of the fighting. But now I’m not. The scariest thing is to never see my children again. That's a real possibility."

At this point, it becomes painfully apparent that Rita is translating for her own mother as she says these words. Before our eyes, the awful reality dawns upon mother and daughter alike. Rita's lips begin to tremble.

"It was an impossible choice," Ruslana continues. "But the right choice was for children to go on living. At least if I die, I'll do it knowing they will live on."

The silence is heavy with the resonance of those dreadful words. Tears in their eyes, mother and daughter embrace. Like they've done dozens of times at stations just like this. But never before in the knowledge that this time may just be the last.

How do you even deal with a possibility so awful? I ask Rita, now alone. She pauses. Swallows the lump in her throat.

"Deny, deny, deny."

And hope?

"Yes. And hope."

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