Walking through the Doha airport in the early hours of the morning, Andrii Zadorozhnyi is wrapped in a Ukrainian flag and is desperate to get home.
Andrii works for the United Nations in Nepal and once he crosses into Ukraine, he won’t be allowed to leave again.
But his new mission is deeply personal and, he says, absolute in its importance.
“What I want right now is to be in my country,” he said.
“That’s another reason that we will win.”
From across the world, Ukrainians are heading home to be on their land, with their people and to fight for their future.
Andrii flew from Doha to Warsaw, picked up supplies and then boarded an overnight bus for the border. He’s now in Western Ukraine.
He said he was going home to first be with his family, second to support his colleagues and “if necessary” he would take up arms.
There are plenty more like him.
For many Ukrainians making the journey home, West Warsaw station is their last stop before heading to the Poland-Ukraine border.
This terminal is a hive of activity as Ukrainians who have travelled across the border to escape war file off buses that then turn around and carry men back towards the front.
On this day, a group of colleagues from Germany, a seaman who left his vessel in the United States, and a reservist working in Saudi Arabia are among them — all Ukrainian, and all intent on defending their country.
They’ve gone to great lengths just to get this far.
‘It’s like a reflex’
Oleksandr Petrov is from Crimea, a region annexed by Russia in 2014. He was once in Ukraine’s airborne division and now serves as a reservist.
“I came from Saudi Arabia. When it started, I asked my company to provide me tickets to go home and my company organised a transfer for me,” he said.
“When the foreign aggressors are coming, it’s like a reaction, it’s like a reflex. We are understanding now our history is being written.
“It’s a big page and I’m not happy this page is written by the bloody letters. It’s a very bad thing, but it’s the rules of our life.”
Oleksandr is angry at the slow pace of his travel home and nervous that he hasn’t heard from some of his brothers in the military for several days.
Like others, his plan is to take a bus to the border, cross to the other side and join the first unit he comes across.
There is a complete lack of apprehension over the battle ahead and a certainty of its outcome.
Oleksandr’s phone is ringing non-stop with calls from friends and colleagues co-ordinating their own missions home. He’s not surprised, he wouldn’t expect any other reaction.
Ukrainians know the price of freedom, he said, “and now we have to pay.”
Oleksandr has training and experience, but at this bus station, many Ukrainians making the journey with him have never fought in a war.
“Actually, I am a seaman and I was on a contract, and right now I’m coming from the United States of America,” Oleh Novikov said.
“My home in Marioupol is surrounded with this f**king Russian occupation. My wife, my son, are inside… so I cannot stay, I must go home.
“I will go to the nearest army, I want to fight. I have no experience. I am a civilian.”
It’s estimated at least 2 million Ukrainians work abroad and men represent 70 per cent of that figure.
A father and son waiting to board a bus only left Ukraine a week ago. They came to Poland to work and send money home, but now they’re headed back to fight.
They’re answering the calls of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who urged his people to take up arms and join the resistance against Russia.
Mr Zelenskyy also called for foreign nationals to come and join the fight — for “all citizens of the world” to join a foreign league and fight “side by side with the Ukrainians against the Russian war criminals”.
In Australia, there are concerns about what such a call could lead to.
Political leaders and terror experts warn that Australians with radical views could be drawn to take part in the conflict in Ukraine, potentially posing a security risk if they return home.
Messages from the front
For anyone who volunteers to join the fight, there’s no guarantee of basic equipment and so, as well as medical and food supplies, military equipment is loaded into buses and sent towards the border.
At the bus station in Warsaw, several men refuse to say what’s inside their bags.
The military supply stores in town are busy, running low on stock and also not eager to talk about what’s being sold.
Women arriving from inside Ukraine are briefing those heading home on what’s happening in their country — urging them to take more equipment.
Ola Reminna is standing with Oleh. She’s just come from the town of Dnipro, he’s heading back to his home of Mariupol.
Tears in her eyes, Ola talks about how the volunteers are dying without protective equipment.
“Those who want to join the army, they suffer because they don’t have vests and helmets,” she said.
She’s just fled a war, has been forced to leave her family behind and is still standing at the bus station, but she’s upset because she doesn’t know where to go to buy the vests she promised those back home.
When Andrii crossed the border, he took with him enough cold weather gear for three soldiers. He said now was not a time to care about private savings.
If he doesn’t spend it now, “in the future it could be too late”.
“The logistics are not good right now. We’re lacking basic stuff like bread… sugar, tea, cigarettes and basic things for soldiers,” he said.
“So what people do here, they buy and produce everything they can and they just send it by buses, by private cars to other regions.”
Even those not ready to fight, are trying to get supplies to their countrymen who are.
‘Ukraine is like a gate to all Europe’
At a military supplies store in Warsaw, the man behind the counter laments “another person heading to the border” as the door swings open minutes before closing time.
“We are going to have to stay open for a while yet,” he said.
The men inside are trying on boots, flicking switchblades and buying up as much equipment as they can afford.
Like Andrii, Mykhailo is wrapped in a Ukrainian flag. He’s 19 years old and a student of law and European studies.
He and his friend Igor spent a day putting together one backpack of supplies for one soldier. They say it has everything one person will need to stay warm and fed and to keep fighting.
They also bought 100 pairs of tactical glasses — something they heard was needed back home.
They believe no item and no effort is too small to help fight a war of such significance.
“It’s not just a war between Ukraine and Russia. It’s between democracy and totalitarianism,” Igor says, also a student of European studies.
“Everyone in the world needs to know, it’s not just a Ukrainian war.”
The men heading home have similar warnings, unafraid to be the ones shouldering the weight of the moment.
“The Russians want to keep us because Ukraine is like a gate to all Europe,” Oleksandr said.
“Putin, the Russian leader, he only understands power. If we fight, he understands this.”
Analysis of the fighting says Russia is facing a bigger fight for the capital than it expected, and Ukrainian forces have slowed its advance.
Andrii believes small acts like preparing a backpack of supplies, to major undertakings like crossing several oceans to take up arms will be the difference in this war.
He says the Ukrainian people know exactly why they’re fighting and have never been more unified in their cause.
“Ukraine is a very powerful country and the power is not about the amount of weapons provided by our partners, it’s about people and their bravery and their courage,” he said.
“People are our strength. Just usual people.”