• Ukrainian women and children traveled for days on foot to flee the country
  • Many are still thinking about their homeland and the men they left behind
  • A woman says her children are scared and refuses to step outside

As Russian troops continue to pound Ukraine, thousands, mostly women and children, have fled Kyiv and Kharkiv to neighboring countries. According to the United Nations, more than one million civilians have fled Ukraine for Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova since the Russian invasion began.

Though these countries have mostly welcomed the refugees, many of them are still traumatized by their arduous experience while others are pining for their homeland.

Olha Drahan, a 42-year-old woman, from Bila Tserkva, a town south of Kyiv, told Radio Free Europe that she spends most of her days crying. She is now in Prague, the Czech capital where thousands of refugees are pouring in.

Drahan left her apartment in Bila Tserkva on Feb. 27 with her 13-year-old daughter and sister. They embarked on a three-day journey, navigating muddy terrain, traveling in packed trains and private cars.

"The trip from Korczowa, on the Polish border, to Prague, took 14 hours. And it was expensive. My sister and I paid $300," Drahan adds. All she took along was a small suitcase with documents and the bare necessities.

Drahan is shaken when she talks about her 24-year-old son, who is now in Ukraine volunteering like thousands of others to defend the city from a possible Russian attack. Her husband and elderly mother remain in Bila Tservkva, and are safe.

Ukrainian men, aged 18 to 60, have been banned from leaving the country and urged to join the army, with the government announcing there was no "no age requirement" to join the force.

Another refugee from Western Ukraine, Oksana Malyuta, fled with her two boys to Poland and then to Prague while her husband stays behind to defend their homeland. "Where will they study? What kind of future will they have," she asks. Malyuta, however, is thankful for the Czech hospitality.

However, 50-year-old Vitaliya Sichova, who fled the Ukrainian city of Mukachevo with her two daughters just after the Russian troops entered the country, says her children are traumatized.

"They are scared. They don't even want to go outside. I don't know what to do," Sichova tells Radio Free Europe.

She just wants to return home. "I don't want to be a refugee. I want to work. I want to go home," says Sichova, an auto insurance agent just a few weeks ago.

For Lyubov Padskai, a 68-year-old woman who too fled from Western Ukraine, the journey from Ukraine to Prague was hard. She says it took her five days to travel, partly on foot, to finally reach the Czech capital. "They were saying that Ukraine was going to fall in two days. There were drones and planes already buzzing in the air just before we got out," Padskai adds.

Ukrainian refugees queue to file for residence permits at Prague's foreigner police headquarters
Ukrainian refugees queue to file for residence permits at Prague's foreigner police headquarters AFP / Michal Cizek