Family members clutched one another in joy at Kharkiv railway station on Tuesday as relatives who had fled the bombardment of the city arrived on the train from the capital, Kyiv.
Daryna Mostyvskaya, 25, greeted her mother with flowers, but was first handed a wriggling bundle of fur, her dog, C.J., before her mother could climb down from the train with her bags and the family cat.
Her mother, Lyudmyla Mostyvskaya, a 50-year-old first aid medic, had been away for nearly a month. “I missed it,” the older woman said. “I could not stay away. My heart was breaking.”
Her daughter, a lawyer, had joined a volunteer group and stayed in the city throughout its months under heavy bombardment, which began in the opening days of the war.
Kharkiv, once Ukraine’s second-largest city, was almost encircled by Russian forces and came under daily assault for two months until a Ukrainian counteroffensive in recent weeks pushed the attacking forces away.
The retreat of Russian forces to about 20 miles from the city has brought a respite from constant artillery fire, and up to 2,000 people have been returning every day by train from central and western Ukraine, where they had taken shelter.
“I did not give her permission to come back,” Ms. Mostyvskaya’s daughter said, laughing, as her mother kissed her. “In Ukraine, nowhere is safe and every day it can change, any time. But thanks to our Ukrainian forces it is more secure now.”