Paris-kyiv, a bus journey to find your loved ones despite the war

Between Paris (France) and Kef (Ukraine).

In the heart of Paris, rue Auriol, at the Chevaleret metro station: a table and three Ukrainians. The young man approaches. He is the only one who speaks English. Igor is only 20 years old, and he still has braces. His smile is brighter. When do the next buses to Ukraine leave? he answers: “Three times a week. Tomorrow, Saturday or Sunday.” Sunday will still be better, Igor nodded. Handshake and everything signed.

Leading the “Marscherokee” by Igor, these caravans transporting and returning products from Ukraine – avoiding middlemen, and some regulations too, allow the Ukrainian diaspora to benefit from goods at unbeatable prices. Since the outbreak of the war, the marshmallow has changed containers. Now cross tons of donations collected and deposited by the Ukrainian community every week.

If goods change, so do men and their ways. On Sunday, at the agreed meeting, buses are waiting. Everyone has their own destination – Lviv, Chernivtsi, Kyiv … Almost a hundred Ukrainians are waiting at the front. They are returning to a country from which 4-5 million refugees have already fled. 100 euros per trip. 100 euros for repatriation at war.

Marchrutky. | Pierre Pollard

Goodbyes are said like goodbyes… to those who have loved ones here. The family remained in Ukraine, or after they fled everywhere else, many attended themselves on their own before recording their names and destination on a piece of paper. Babushka returns to Ukraine after taking refuge in France at the beginning of the war. His daughter and grandson remain. Between two hugs, her daughter, exhausted and sorry, explains: “She was very unhappy here in France. Ukraine may be at war, but it remains her country where she feels comfortable. The grandson talks without really understanding what his grandmother is heading towards.

On the Parisian sidewalk, parts of this Ukrainian diaspora scattered across Europe are recreated but have remained true to their origins. Loyalty remains intact. Marschrutke is carrying a truck with donation boxes bigger than him – as if filling the smallest gap was a battle win. Nearby, farewell hurried. These men and women say words in Ukrainian to their relatives who remained. Near the metro beats, passersby, young people play basketball…no noise or talk. From Oryol Street, we go to the war in a secret and anonymous way.


The bus is moving. The last greetings are done from the window by hand. In the front of the car is a small scented spruce and the sign “POLSKA” (Poland) – which became “ROUSKA” (a city in the Lviv region, Ukraine) depending on the light. The two drivers don’t talk much, the cargo should arrive safely, they take turns every five hours. They can only leave Ukraine if they come back. Someone still has their family there: “To the West, to Chernivtsi, where the war is not yet.”

Our bus travels with another in a convoy. At the beginning of the conflict, on the same bus, men were the majority. All young, at least enough to fight. Smoking in a circle, they showed the first photographed evidence of Russian abuses. In the whirlpool of corpses and rubble, one of the men took the floor and expressed all his anger. A bottle of whiskey was rolling under the seats.

Movies are broadcast for about twenty hours. Dubbing in Russian, especially films with Isabel Hubert.

These men were preparing perhaps for murder, perhaps death: at 2,500 kilometers they admitted the possibility of the worst. Four months have passed. Those guys (Leonid, Sergey, Andrei…) who were going to war are doing it now. Some are fighting in the Donbass or in Kherson. Others do not give more news.

Women took their place. Teenagers, grandmothers, or newlyweds… these women go to war because only they can go back. The only men on the bus, with the exception of the drivers, are very old or very young: they do not risk conscription – compulsory between 18 and 60 – and so they can return to Ukraine without fear of being stranded there.

Therefore, passengers, mostly passengers, know that death is on the way to their destination. It’s falling from the sky for no real reason nor Strategic objectiveNothing can justify annihilation except that death falls. Marina, an old woman, dressed as elegantly as before an important date, but rejects this possibility with the back of her hand: “Things are going well in Kyiv, usually…” She says that without even realizing his bravery.

Many say that “usually” by Marina Like a mantra, the supplication that holds everything. On the bus we repeat the unimaginable, we give common sense to war. If death comes, it is without an appointment, like a nightmare: a death that simply cannot be done.

Don’t show anything more

Nothing says fear. The hostess hands out tea or coffee every three hours – swaying around the bends but not dropping a drop from her mugs and unwavering smile. The landscape that people look at does not pass through the windows but takes rectangles of thirty centimeters by forty centimeters in length.

The films are broadcast on the bus’s three screens, without interruption, for approximately twenty hours. Dubbing in Russian, especially films with Isabel Hubert – and it seems that they are very popular in Ukraine. Vlad, a 30-year-old woman with sparkling blue eyes amid her brown hair, comments with a dream: “What an extraordinary woman…” While Isabel Hubert was giving up merchants twice her size.

“When the war is over and Ukraine is liberated, the horror will remain in my memory.”


Vlad is a psychiatrist, her husband remains in France – his arrival dates back to “prewar”. Like many of the other women here, Vlad is on a mission: “I will bring my mother and my niece. My sister must stay. She works in a court, her job is primary.” Originally from Irvine, Vlad shows an image of a charred truck: In January my husband and I bought it. In February, the Russians bombed it. ”

In the next seat Anna. In Paris she said goodbye to her mother and daughter: I left them in France because I’m coming back. I’m going to Ukraine for my teeth. I have nothing against French medicine but I prefer Ukrainian dentist. “ you smile. However, his teeth appear completely intact and intact. Anna ends by adding, humbly: “There’s also my husband to see… It’s been almost three months since I left him.”

If her husband cannot get out of Ukraine, he is an internal exile – he and their cats. “We came from Kharkiv. When the war is over and Ukraine is liberated, the horror will remain in my memory.” Anna doesn’t show anything more than that. Not even his teeth.

Anna and Vlad. | Pierre Pollard

Soon Ukraine

The scene is out of the scrolls and nothing really changes. On the road, Bulgarian trucks carry German engineering or Spanish oranges. If the languages ​​differ, and if Poland’s currency ends up diverging, then peace reigns in Europe as a unit. On this long journey that has already taken twenty hours, boredom ends up taking over. We complain about poor air conditioning – or excessive power, it’s a debate…

“The examiner told me I was crazy, and I wanted my license passed like that when Russia just invaded us.”


Others say the need to pee, otherwise they smoke – but it’s not so hard to always take it upon yourself. We are heading toward a country ravaged by war, and nothingness is stirred up by the great blows of small things. Cross the healthy body, through the arteries, to the dying limbs.

The corridor between Poland and Ukraine is long – as always. Two teenage girls can’t resist spreading the word “Ukraine” in large letters from the Border Post on Instagram. Then as soon as Ukraine enters, not a single word, faces remain muffled. The first thing he says difference with Europe is not war, but poverty. Western Ukraine is particularly desolate – which says a lot about the country’s fate if the richer and more industrialized east fell. Farmers are clamoring for a task that is not even automated for some.

Since the clip is in Ukraine, there is no Isabel Hubert and no film at all. The scene is enough. Anna found the stages of her denial: “This hotel we were there!” The two teenage girls who had so far stayed on their smartphones look into the far distance. Someone sees a cemetery and then collapses in tears. Her friend tries to reassure her, takes her in her arms. In the midst of crying, suddenly a laugh takes them.

From one bus to another

In Lviv, you have to change buses, under the scorching sun. Everyone hopes to get to Kyiv before the curfew falls, at 11 pm – otherwise they will have to wait on the bus until 5 am. The journey now took thirty hours. Tired bodies, dark eyes. The new driver is a bald, sweaty giant. He wears “vyshyvanka”, traditional Ukrainian clothing. He posts his jokes into the bus microphone and the passengers are busy with the game.

At the same time, there are a few benches in the distance, and big toenails mess with the ventilation. Anastasia is 20 years old, and her eyes are as green as her lacquer. She says, brushing her long blonde hair. “Now I live in Pau but I came from Odessa! I ran away. Now I go back to look for the family in Kyiv, then in Odessa. I also have to pass my license! I asked to do it but it was on February 24, when the war started.. …the examiner told me that I was insane, and that I wished to pass my license as such when Russia was coming from us to invade.”

The joy of arriving after two days of travel takes precedence over the fatigue and stress of waiting.

Anastasia tells that the recovery of all her family members is a small formality. Her smile sparkled. “I want to take my family back to France, near the sea if possible.. Is Marseille good?” answer itself: “All the French told me it was disgusting! So it is definitely good. It will be like Odessa: in Ukraine, everyone hates it! “ Interrupted by the driver’s announcement, the bus will arrive at midnight after the start of the curfew. We’ll have to wait until 5 AM.

The last checkpoint before Kyiv looks like a fortress. A soldier gets on the bus and checks the papers. It emphasizes the importance of the curfew, or rather the vital necessity of its observance: Just yesterday evening FSB agents were found near the central station. They even have Ukrainian papers…” A few days ago, in Kyiv, a person ran away when the soldiers asked him why he was abroad. He was shot. However, the policeman calms the assembly: “Step into the curfew and you’ll be fine.”

Upon arrival in Kyiv, near the central station, passengers gather outside the bus and discuss in an arc. Smiles and laughter abound. The joy of arriving after two days of travel takes precedence over the fatigue and stress of waiting. A few beers are traded – but you have to hide them when the army or the police are passing by, alcohol is forbidden outside and at night… A slight excess of hospitality takes over the passengers. For the few homeless who wander near the station, we offer a little money to drink… With shared values, and the pride they inspire, it’s about restoring temporarily a country that has been partly captured by the enemy.

Above, for once, the night is content with shining stars. No sirens and no bombing. Silence whispers a time of peace. The sun will rise soon. Some rays really shine, blood red. Long-nailed Anastasia, perfect-toothed Anna and many others are getting ready to set out once again on their missions. Say goodbye or goodbye? Words are now useless. The war is back to normal.

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