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Some Ukrainians are returning from abroad to help military efforts in their country

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Ukrainians are fleeing Russian bombardment, hoping to reach safety in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. But there's traffic going the opposite way as well. Some Ukrainians who managed to escape the war are now returning home, back into harm's way. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from the Polish border.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: At this border crossing, there's only a trickle of people coming through into Poland from Ukraine. There's a huge backlog of thousands of people waiting to cross. But what's surprising is the length of the line of people going into Ukraine. Pulling suitcases behind them, Ukrainians come to go back into their country while it's under bombardment to volunteer, some of them to fight.

OLGA: We're going back home. Right now, everything depends on our army and our people, and if we can help somehow...

FRAYER: Olga and Sergey are a Ukrainian couple who happened to be on vacation in Lithuania when Russia attacked back home. And instead of counting their blessings that they missed the war, they're trying to join it - she, a makeup artist, and he, a sound director for films. They want to help however they can.

OLGA: I can work in hospital, and I know that the many people needs help. And, you know, when we will be there, we will understand what to do because there is a lot of volunteers, and we can do a lot for our people.

FRAYER: Olga's partner, Sergey, is 38, and that means that once he crosses this border, he will be asked, as a man between the ages of 18 and 60, to pick up a weapon and defend his country. He says he's ready.

SERGEY: (Speaking Russian).

FRAYER: "Of course I'm afraid, but this is what we must do," he says, stoical. The line into Ukraine is mostly men. Some are Ukrainians who've lived abroad for years, including a portly taxi driver named Yaroslav...

YAROSLAV: (Speaking Polish).

FRAYER: ...Who jokes that this line better move quickly because he's 59, and the cutoff for conscripts is 60. He served in the Soviet army as a young man, and now he's raising his hand to fight against the Russians.

Volunteers hand the men water bottles and snacks to carry through the border post into Ukraine, where thousands of their countrymen have been camping out in line through the night to cross the other way.

ALEX BABI-I: We try to send our people some water, some food, some stuff for children.

FRAYER: Alex Babi-i is one of the volunteers, a Ukrainian studying in Poland. And as we chat, a cheer goes up through the crowd. He chimes in.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Vom slava.

FRAYER: Vom slava, or glory to you. Glory to the heroes, he explains. Alex is 22. Does he think about going home to enlist? I ask.

BABI-I: Every day. I'm thinking, but...

FRAYER: Every day, he says as he watches these men volunteer. Russia's troops vastly outnumber Ukraine's, but these volunteers could be the wild card. Another conscript in line, Andrey, who, like many here, did not want to give his surname, describes how he fled the drums of war six days ago...

ANDREY: (Speaking Russian).

FRAYER: ...But now has changed his mind. His wife and children will stay in Lithuania while he goes home to fight. And as we chat, he gets choked up. He's emotional, but the line is moving. He's got to go. I wish him good luck. And as he passes through the border gate, he turns back and says...

ANDREY: Slava Ukraine.

FRAYER: Slava Ukraine. Glory to Ukraine. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, at the Medica border post between Poland and Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF FANTOMPOWER'S "CLOUD NEON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.