More than two million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes since Russia launched its full-scale attack on the country 13 days ago, according to the latest figures from the UN.
In what has become the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War Two, women, children, and men who are not of fighting age are crossing the border into neighbouring countries – many bringing with them little more than the clothes on their backs.
Poland has welcomed in around 1.2 million refugees so far, while some have traveled on to support networks in other parts of Europe and the US.
On Thursday, the Biden administration announced that it would offer temporary protected status for Ukrainians, meaning that thousands of people already temporarily living or studying in the US can stay and work legally for 18 months rather than being forced to return to the war zone they used to call home.
US Census estimates reveal that around 350,000 Ukrainian immigrants currently live in the US and this move could apply to around 75,000 of this group.
White House Press Secretary said the US was willing to take in Ukrainian refugees and around $54m has been given in aid to help those displaced by the war.
But, while evacuations out of Ukraine continue and the US vows to take steps to support refugees, a growing number of Ukrainians are instead choosing to make the opposite journey with several waving goodbye to their lives in America to return home and fight for their country.
Since the start of the war, over 140,000 Ukrainian citizens have made the journey back to Ukraine to volunteer in the fight against Russian forces, the State Guard Border Service said on Monday.
While it is not clear how many of those traveled from the US, a pastry chef who worked in the Hamptons, a newlywed bride living in Chicago and a father who relocated to America to create a better life for his daughters are among those returning to Ukraine.
The Hamptons pastry chef
A pastry chef who runs a coffee shop in an affluent Hamptons community in New York state swapped his chef’s whites for full body armour and crossed the border from Poland into Ukraine this week.
Kristofer Kalas, owner of Hello Oma in East Hampton, told CBS News he has no military experience but is willing to die for his daughter’s country.
“I want my child to have a Ukraine to go back to when she’s grown up,” he told the outlet as he walked along the border checkpoint dressed in full body armour.
Mr Kalas is a US citizen who sees himself as a Ukrainian by marriage after marrying a Ukrainian woman.
Before the war, the couple and their infant daughter used to split their time between New York and Ukraine.
Mr Kalas said the family evacuated to Portugal where he left his wife and baby safe before returning to Ukraine alone.
“I am absolutely worried yes. But I am more worried for the people there who are not able to leave,” he said.
He added that Russia’s threat that foreign fighters would not be protected under “international humanitarian law” did not concern him, because Russia has also disregarded humanitarian law in its treatment of Ukrainian civilians.
“As far as I can tell, they don’t protect civilians under humanitarian law, so I don’t put much credence in anything they say,” he said.
Mr Kalas grew up and went to school in East Hampton, where many of America’s rich and famous including Alec Baldwin and Beyoncé have homes.
After training as a private chef, Mr Kalas began producing his own chocolate before he opened Hello Oma in the area near where he grew up, according to a 2019 profile by local magazine Edible East End.
His vision was for a coffee shop with baked goods, homemade chocolate and handmade pizza that had a focus on reducing waste.
Now, he hopes not to engage in combat but to help out in Ukraine’s defence where he can.
The new bride
A new bride who was born in Ukraine and has lived in Chicago for the last two decades boarded a flight to Europe two days after her wedding to join the fight for her home country.
Maria married her husband David at a small ceremony in Oak Park on Saturday, where the roughly 20 guests were asked to donate medical supplies and other essential items for her to take to Ukraine instead of more traditional wedding gifts.
On Monday, she planned to fly to Poland, before traveling on to the Ukrainian border where she will volunteer to fight for the country.
“I have to go. I can’t do protests or fundraising or wave flags,” she told the Associated Press.
“We’ve done this since 2015, Ukrainians, and I just can’t do it anymore.”
Her new husband David also plans to join her as soon as his passport is approved, as he said he wants to try to keep his wife safe and feels that “complacency and compliance are pretty much the same thing”.
“You can only turn a blind eye to people being bullied for so long. And if it happens to them, it might be you next,” he said.
Maria grew up in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv until 1991 before her family moved to Poland.
She then moved to Austria to study music, where she met her ex-husband who was from Chicago.
She said they moved to his home town and she has lived there for the last 20 years, staying after they divorced.
Maria and David met last year and became engaged in October.
A local venue offered them a last-minute ceremony so they could wed before flying to Ukraine. It was a poignant date for their nuptials, marking her Ukrainian grandmother’s birthday.
Maria doesn’t have any medical or military experience but is determined to support her country in whatever way she can if she is turned down from joining combat.
The father who won the green card lottery
A Ukrainian father who relocated to America to create a better life for his family after winning the green card lottery waved goodbye to his two daughters at Portland international airport in Oregon on Thursday to head to Ukraine.
Sergey Korenev told The Guardian that he had been closely watching Russia’s escalation on his country for months and decided he had to return to help within hours of the launch of the full-scale attack.
“When it became a total invasion, I felt like I needed to do something. I could not watch it from afar,” he said.
The 44-year-old was first heading to New York to collect donations and supplies from the Ukrainian community, then onto Poland to head to the border.
He planned to rescue his mother from her home near Kyiv and evacuate her to safety in Poland before returning to join many of his friends who are already working as volunteers in the territorial defence force.
The father-of-two spent his last day in the country they had made their home watching his youngest daughter Anna, 11, skateboard in a local park along with his eldest daughter Maria, 17.
They then went with him to the airport where they had a tearful goodbye before their father boarded his plane – a small Ukrainian flag sticking out of his backpack.
Back in 2014, Mr Korenev and his ex-wife Valentina launched a foundation to help Ukrainians fighting in Donetsk.
Since moving to the US, he has worked as a driver for Uber and Doordash and has been enjoying America’s craft beer scene, his brother told The Guardian.
Despite winning the green card lottery, meaning the US can now be his permanent home, the 44-year-old was determined to head back to Ukraine in his country’s hour of need.
He said: “I’m going there to help my friends, they are my brothers in arms.”