A large number of women are now making their way back from Germany to the Ukraine – from which they had fled before the Russian attack. Flixbus alone, the best-known of the many transport companies that offer daily trips to Kyiv and other Ukrainian locations, sends around 40 buses a week, each with around 50 to 80 seats, to the war-torn state.

Hardly any seats can be found online for the coming week – even for many buses that will not be leaving for three weeks, the Flixbus portal shows “fully booked” or “almost full”. If you go to the company’s counter at the central bus station in Berlin in the morning, you will hear: “Everything is full. Difficult at the moment.” When will the next bus with free seats leave? “The whole week is full. Because many Ukrainians are going back now.”

After some searching in the computer’s planning program, the employee says: “Next Wednesday there are still two places – but it’s a connection with a long stopover and a night changeover in Katowice.”

Among the women waiting for the descent on trail 17 this Wednesday is Lisa. The 25-year-old from Kyiv says her bus is half an hour late. It’s going back soon – finally. “I first went to Warsaw from Kyiv on March 4 because it all became too dangerous for me. That made sense because I studied Polish at the University of Kyiv.” A little later she went to Berlin; she got a job at an advertising company through an acquaintance. “But it’s more important to me to be at home with my friends and relatives, so I don’t want to stay abroad any longer.”

Does she already know how she will live in Kyiv? “I was already looking for a job from Berlin. A US company offered me something good in TV advertising. This is a remote job; so I can work for the company from Kyiv via the Internet.” Is her boyfriend in the army? “No, he’s a barista in a café in Kyiv. The army has not yet drafted him. They have a lot more volunteers than guns anyway.”

At one point, the serious and calm young woman seemed a little annoyed: “It’s very strange when your politicians and some Germans act as if they were now giving the poor Ukrainians a great chance of work and a life in Germany. That’s insulting! We love our country and want to live and work there. In Berlin, the average wage is 2000 euros – with the expensive rents. In Kyiv I earned 1500 euros, but the expenses are much less.”

By no means all women who go to Ukraine want to return permanently like Lisa. Some go there for a short time and return to the Federal Republic.

The 39-year-old Darina, for example, is on her way to Kyiv to meet her husband: He has been fighting in Donbass for months – and she bursts into tears when she talks about him at the bus station. He will be given leave from the front for two days and will go to Kyiv. After their meeting, Darina will return to Berlin on Sunday – and he will go to war.

“I last met him in Kyiv for two days a month ago. I know he’s going through bad things. But he doesn’t want to tell me much so I don’t panic.” At least he could call her more often; the situation is not good in the Donbass and he is right in the middle of it with a machine gun, helmet and protective vest. “I hope to return in the summer. The Germans are very friendly and support us very well, but my daughter has to go back to school at some point.”

Why is this not possible here? “She is no longer allowed to participate in her class’s video lessons because she has to go to the German class.” The 15-year-old has been taking online lessons at her school in Kyiv since the flight three months ago. However, she has now been obliged to attend a Berlin integration class. “They don’t learn math, literature or anything there, just the German language.” Because the Berlin lessons take place at the same time as the Ukrainian school, they lose touch with the material.

Darina’s second problem is unemployment: “I asked a few beauty salons and nail salons here if they had jobs. They would all have hired me, but only want to pay ten euros (per hour, ed.). I can’t rent an apartment here with that.” The ratio of salaries to the cost of living is much better in the Ukraine than in Berlin; she is optimistic that she will be able to work as a beautician in Kyiv again in the summer. In the meantime, she has applied for social assistance: “It was a bit bureaucratic, but pretty easy.”

Darina estimates that “about 50:50 returnees and home visitors” are sitting in the full buses that drive to Ukraine every day. The bus occupancy suggests that this is roughly the case: While the daily connections to Kyiv are invariably fully occupied, there are many free seats for the return buses at short notice. For example, anyone who searched for buses from Kyiv to Berlin on Wednesday evening on the Flixbus portal for Thursday evening saw several connections with the information “almost empty”, “half full” and “almost fully booked”.

There are also some Ukrainians on the buses who travel to Ukraine from other countries via Germany. Three months ago, 66-year-old Tatyana fled to Belgium from Kharkov, which was heavily shelled by Russians. “I’m going home to visit relatives,” she says. “My husband and the children stayed in Belgium. I’ll be back by bus next week.”

Some women at the bus station do not consider themselves vulnerable. “Yes, I’m going to Ukraine, but I’m not a refugee, I was just visiting friends here,” says Olena. The 38-year-old is single and has “just been on vacation in Prague for a few days, my girlfriend works there for a Czech company”.

She was employed in the public service and “just needed a few days of relaxation” – now it’s going back to Kyiv. “I’ve lived there for many years and have been in the city continuously since February 24th. It’s pretty safe now, I hope we can win against the Russians.”

Hardly anyone is to be seen in the welcome complex next to the bus station, which is decorated with huge Ukraine flags. A few social workers and Arab security people stand in the large tents. But Igor, who has just arrived from Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, is sitting on a bench. As a man, did he have problems leaving the country?

He is already 61 years old and is just over the age limit: since the general mobilization, men of military age have only been allowed to leave the country in exceptional cases. He just wants to visit friends who have fled Rostock for a week and then drive back. He is concerned that an “80,000-man army” is being massed in Belarus, not far from his hometown. “It’s quiet right now, but that could change again soon.”

“Kick-off Politics” is WELT’s daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music or directly via RSS feed.