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May 4th, 2023

I was reading an article on the Al Jazeera news site yesterday. Al Jazeera gives daily updates on the war in Ukraine. The article that I read showed on a map how many Ukrainian refugees have fled from their homeland and where they are now. As of the end of 2022, eight million Ukrainians crossed the border into Poland. The number of refugees permitted to enter Poland is astounding, and millions more fled from Ukraine last year and went to Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary. In contrast, the United States, during fiscal year 2022, allowed just over 25 thousand refugees into our country. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

I wonder how many Ukrainians will return to their native land once the war with Russia is over. Based on what I have learned over the years, not many will choose to go back to Ukraine. There was another article in Al Jazeera which indicated that 2/3 of the Ukrainian refugees planned on remaining in their adopted country. That sounds about right.

Refugees, and immigrants in general, may hope to go back home someday, but it seldom happens. People leave their homelands for a good reason. They don’t often abandon friends, family, and familiar surroundings on a whim. People usually emigrate because they have to do so. In some cases, they literally have a gun to their heads when they depart.

I have an Afghan friend. He and his family fled from Kabul when the city fell. He made it quite clear to me that if he had stayed in Afghanistan, the Taliban would have killed him. I know a Syrian refugee family. They abandoned their farm in Syria when the civil war in that country became too dangerous for them. I know a Ukrainian Jew who fled with his family after the fall of the Soviet Union, because members of an ultranationalist militia told him it was unhealthy for them to remain in Ukraine. Many years ago, when I was stationed with the Army in West Germany, I went to a restaurant in Frankfurt that was run by Croatian refugees. They had been strongly encouraged by Tito’s partisans to find a new home. These stories are not uncommon. This sort of thing happens all the time, all over the world.

The fact is that none of the people I have mentioned have ever gone home. Some have died among strangers in a strange land. Those who are alive can’t go back. I’m sure that some of them are nostalgic for the Old Country, but it is unsafe to return.

My wife’s family on her father’s side were refugees after the end of WWII. They had been living in Silesia, which until 1945 was a German province. They fled westward with the Red Army’s artillery following closely after them. The houses they left behind were quickly occupied by Poles, who were likewise being pushed west by the Soviet forces. When the war ended, Silesia was part of Poland, and my wife’s relatives had lost their homes forever.

Refugees, and other immigrants, might think that there will be a sudden change in their fortunes, and that they will be able go back. However, time is not on their side. They have to immediately forge a new life in their new country. They have to find food, housing, and work. To survive they need to become part of a new community and new culture. They can’t just sit and wait.

My wife is an immigrant to the United States. She is still a German citizen, although she has been in this country for almost forty years. Her ties to Germany diminish with each passing year. She doesn’t feel like an American, but she is becoming a stranger to the home of her youth. Much of what she remembers no longer exists. She has changed, and so has Germany.

If the war in Ukraine suddenly ended today, millions of Ukrainian refugees would not go back. Go back to what? Go back to wanton destruction? Go back to cities and villages that are now alien to them? Go back to relationships that have been shattered? The Ukraine they love and remember is gone. It’s already too late.

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