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Ukrainians Return Home by the Millions Even as War Rages On

Family, penury, and guilt are motivating refugees to come back.

Olena Romanova (center) dancing at Nuestro Tango in Irpin.

Olena Romanova (center) dancing at Nuestro Tango in Irpin.

Photographer: Andrew Kravchenko for Bloomberg Businessweek

On a recent Saturday, a group of beginner dancers gathered to practice the heel flicks, twists, and sashays of the tango in Irpin, just outside Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Together with neighboring Bucha, the satellite town became a byword for the brutality of Russian occupation after Vladimir Putin’s troops retreated in April, leaving behind mass graves along with evidence of torture and civilian executions. But for two hours, twice a week, the dancers leave those horrors behind.

They’re mostly women, recently returned with their children from elsewhere in Europe. Some came back to reunite with their husbands or parents, others for jobs or the start of the school year. And some came back because of the gnawing sense of guilt they felt as refugees for not taking part in Ukraine’s life-and-death struggle against its larger neighbor. All of those interviewed said that as soon as Irpin’s Nuestro Tango studio reopened, they signed up to help cope with the war, which is taking its toll also on those who’d managed to escape the fighting.