LUKYN can see Kateryna's vivid headscarf through the black iron grille. She has pushed to the front of the crowd of 2,000 waiting to greet the plane at Ivano Frankivsk airport, and holds up a little girl in a chiffon head-dress. Kateryna . . . a grandmother]

'Last time I saw her she was my little sister with long fair plaits, and she was crying,' says Lukyn Michael Nazaruk. 'June 20, 1944.' Kateryna had screamed as German troops swept into the Ukrainian village of Stari Krywotuly, threw 14-year-old Lukyn and his brothers into a cattle truck and took them to military camps in Germany as slave labour.

'I couldn't go home because the Russians sent Ukrainians who had fought for the Germans, however unwillingly, to Siberia,' Lukyn says. He escaped from a repatriation camp, changed his name to Mykola Popowych and tried to join the Foreign Legion. 'Then Britain and the UN decided against forced repatriation, and I went to England as a European voluntary worker.'

Now, a tourist in his own land, he is at the airport, which still looks like a military base. 'I left as a youngster, I return a disabled grandad,' he says. Kateryna steps forward bearing the traditional greeting of bread and salt. Flanked by his 82-year-old half-sister, Paranja, all in black, Lukyn kisses the offering; his brother-in-law, nieces Slava and Lidya, and their children, wave flowers and sing.

'I am treading the earth I still call my home,' Lukyn says. 'I am happy, but sad that we had to wait 48 years to embrace. This is no holiday, this is a pilgrimage.'

Since Ukraine's declaration of independence in 1991, hundreds have flown from Britain to rejoin their families. Bob Sope, an Oldham travel agent, says many Ukrainians do not realise that their British relatives are alive.

'One man returned to find a monument to himself in the village,' he says. 'He saw his elderly sister carrying a pail of milk, tapped her on the shoulder, and said: 'It's Michel, your brother.' His sister collapsed.'

Lukyn is accompanied by his English wife, Lily, married son David, daughter-in-law Angela and grandchildren Alexander (eight), Sofia (four) and Lukyn (18 months). He retired recently as a social worker with Derbyshire County Council. But he says he remembers more about his village than the rest of his life.

Next day he wakes in his boyhood home, now Kateryna's house, and looks out again from his window at the Carpathian mountains.

Time has passed Stari Krywotuly by. Slava is drawing water from the well. A woman is doing her washing in the river. 'These images of life have been constantly in my mind,' says Lukyn.

He is desperate to see the spot where he was born, now a stable and pigsty. 'The path's still there, the road's still there. Trees are bigger, but lines and shapes are as I remember.'

He crosses and re-crosses the village, checking that the shrines, whose removal Soviet officials had ordered, are in their correct positions. He spends two hours at the new memorial: 'To see the Ukrainian flags and names of Ukrainian heroes - not Soviet soldiers - who fought against the Germans and the Russians to gain freedom is a great moment in my life.' People greet him: a man who married a distant cousin; a man who had ridden with him and the German guards in that cattle truck.

In the evening, the family gathers for a celebratory meal: varennyky (pastry with potatoes and cheese) and holobtzi (cabbage leaves, rice and meat). 'The shops are empty but the tables are full because my family produces everything themselves,' Lukyn explains. 'Living in the towns on pounds 4 a months is different.' The local toast is 'Chernobyl' because, of the first 14 firemen called to the stricken reactor, the only survivor had drunk three bottles of vodka the night before.

Next morning, Lukyn visits his parents' and brothers' graves. At each, he bows in terrible lamentation, clutching the headstones. 'Our mother died heartbroken, believing I was dead because for 10 years I didn't write,' he says. 'I wrote when Stalin died, but it was too late. For years afterwards I cried every time I got a letter mentioning my mother.'

His elder brother Michael's face looks from an oval photograph set into the gravestone. He was in the Ukrainian resistance and served four years in Siberia. 'I looked on him as my second father. When I was 11, I secretly read his underground letters; he was imprisoned by the Germans at that time. It's where I got my ideology.'

His other brother, Jurko, escaped from the Germans, joined the Polish army, and was taken into the Red Army when the Russians came. 'The Germans put him into a concentration camp. When he came out he was just a skeleton.'

The sumptuous village church overwhelms Lukyn. 'It used to be just a wooden frame. When the Soviets closed it down, people hid the treasures in their houses and held services in the woods.' Inside, incense clouds a blaze of Byzantine glory: gold and dark icons, a blue heaven painted inside the dome. The priest asks Lukyn to carry the gold staff.

A concert is held in his honour and he is asked to make a speech. He visits the Carpathians, dances across the rocks in the tumbling river, buys embroidered shirts and plays a wooden pipe at a tourist stall decked with icons. 'It's a song about the Carpathians we teach our children in England,' he says. 'People here are poor, but rich in culture. Stari Krywotuly has no drainage, but it has a concert hall.

'When I found how cheap it is to buy a decent house ( pounds 5,000), I thought I would do it. But after a week or so, I felt the lack of amenities: drainage, proper transport (the family has an old Lada but no petrol), roads, the empty shops. I have an English wife . . . grandchildren. After what happened to me - losing my country - I couldn't do that to anyone else. If I were on my own I'd consider going . . .

'Inflation is terrible - no bread in the bread shops. But people are not complaining. The secret police no longer visit. We're all free at last.'

Back in Oldham, Bob Sope says that a Ukrainian woman visitor fainted in Sainsbury's when her eyes fell on the bread counter. Another borrowed a camcorder and filmed the shelves of potatoes.

Lukyn's visit, in the other direction, was difficult, too. 'At the same time, I felt as if I'd never left home. I'd always said that when I retired I would risk everything and go. In the end, independence came and I didn't have to.'

(Photograph omitted)

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