The Talyzenkov family, currently living in London, England, heads back to Ukraine for a weeklong visit.

‘Family is everything’: A train ride to a long-awaited reunion in Ukraine

The Talyzenkov family heads back to Ukraine by train for a weeklong visit. The two children are eager to reunite with their father, who is currently serving in the army.

The World

Nearly one year ago, people across Ukraine woke up at the crack of dawn to the news that the Russian military was invading their country.

Since then, about 8 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland. Many have resettled indefinitely, even with loved ones still back home.

The Talyzenkov family has been living in London for most of the last year.

Early this week, Olena Talyzenkova and her two children, 9-year-old Matviy, and 14-year-old Arina, rode the train back to Ukraine together from Poland, headed for a long-awaited reunion.

“We are going to our native city [Rvine] to see my husband. We didn't see him for five or six weeks. Now, he is in the army, to serve his country, to protect us,” Talyzenkova explained.

Her husband, Serhiy Talyzenkov, a computer programmer with no prior military experience, is now serving in the Ukrainian army.

“They have just one goal, to protect their family and their land,” Talyzenkova said. “Maybe they are not the best of the best, because they never served in the army, but they know they are in the right place.”

Arina and Matviy said they were both very eager to spend time with their father again.

“I think first, when I see him, I will not tell [anything]. I will just hug him and that's all,” Arina said, adding that she anticipates a lot of tears. She said she misses spending time with her father, playing board games, riding bikes and playing badminton in the summers.

Matviy said he feels the same. 

“I just want to hug him and go to the forest with him to play different games and just have a good time with him, because I miss him very much,” he said.

Talyzenkova said that living in London has been a positive experience, with friendly neighbors and supportive schools. Talyzenkova has been allowed to work and the children have received laptops and school uniforms to ease the transition.

But the separation from her husband has been challenging.

“My mom told me the family is the most important thing, so now, I even more appreciate the family. I have to keep the family."

Olena Talyzenkova, Ukrainian mother of two, currently living in London, England. 

“My mom told me the family is the most important thing, so now, I even more appreciate the family. I have to keep the family. And it's really hard to be alone, because you have to make too many decisions on your own. We discuss everything through messenger or by phone — what we can discuss — but it's not the same,” she explained. 

Arina has also felt the pang of separation from her Ukrainian classmates and friends. She said they keep in touch mostly through group texts, where they share jokes, play online games together and discuss politics. 

“We often discuss political things. We read news together and discuss war … it's always difficult to talk about it, but it's nice that I have someone my age and I can discuss it with them. We support each other. It's a nice thing,” she said.

Matviy said he has made some new friends in London, but he’s most enamored by his host family’s dogs, Birdy and Lola. He especially enjoys going on walks with them. 

As they got closer to their final destination, Arina and Matviy said they both share the same hope: 

“I hope this war will finish real soon,” Arina said. “I really hope the war will finish and everyone [can] just come back home to their houses, to their fathers, and spend a lovely time together.” 

Matviy added that his wish is for everyone to one day return to their birthplace and reunite with their families.

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