As we gathered case studies of the Ukrainian people our Ukraine Emergency Appeal has been supporting, we noticed a commonality among some of the stories shared. We were hearing about the women who were holding their families and communities together throughout these challenging and unprecedented times.
These women have different stories, they are from different cities, have different loved ones, and find themselves in different roles, but their stories all weave together to create a larger story: the story of Ukrainian women persisting despite this war. We wish to share their stories with you now, so that you may know some of the women who have been supported by our appeal, in the hope that their testimonies demonstrate their strength and importance to both their families and communities.
Tatiana is a social worker and teacher from Bucha, Ukraine.
She and her two daughters, aged nineteen and eleven, fled Ukraine on March 13th 2022.
‘For ten days we stayed in Bucha and we saw the invasion of Russian soldiers into our region. One day when my husband went out to the yard and we heard shooting. I didn’t realise that that was the moment my husband was killed by Russian soldiers. When I tried to collect information from witnesses, I found out that my husband stood in front of a tank to save us because it was pointed at our house. He thought we were in the house, we were actually in the cellar. He was shot four times. One of the bullets went through his organs and he had no chance of surviving. We do not know the reason for their aggression’.
Tatiana’s journey to Poland with her two daughters was very hard.
‘We had our own car but my husband had the keys and the Russian soldiers took everything: his documents, his keys, and his driving licence. I couldn’t get into our car so we had to leave with our neighbours. There were eight of us in the car. The journey was difficult because we didn’t know if we would make it. After all, we didn’t know where the Russian soldiers were. We had a very difficult time between the 1st and 5th March because a lot of people were shot and killed, including some people we knew. It was a disaster because we didn’t expect such cruel behaviour from people who we thought of as our brothers.’
Tatiana, her daughters, and her neighbours arrived in Poland on March 13th 2022 and Tatiana and her daughters stayed in a flat owned by her husband’s employer.
‘Sometimes I don’t know what to do, how to carry on living. Teaching helped me to deal with my stress because when I’m teaching children I forget about my problems, I must keep myself together and not show my emotions. When I have lessons from early morning till late afternoon, I can keep calm and try to forget and show my daughters that we must continue living for their father, for his dreams. We hope that we will return home soon because we miss home very much.’
Alla fled her home of Odesa, Ukraine with her daughter.
‘All of the rest of my family, my grandparents and parents, are still in Odessa, it was a really hard decision to come here. I didn’t want to leave my family, but it was very unsafe for my child.’
Alla is now working with our humanitarian partner, MedAir, providing psychological support to help other refugees who need help and support moving forward.
Alla is key to the work of our humanitarian partner, she helped with the assessments for the cash assistance scheme and now through her role providing support to others going through a similar situation to her is vital. Doing all of this while single-handedly raising her daughter away from the rest of her family demonstrates her strength as she seeks to give her daughter the best life she can.
Marina, a refugee from Kramatorsk, Ukraine lives in the Parish House of one of our humanitarian partners, LWF, with her daughter and her husband who lives with a spinal problem.
Marina came to Poland with her mother and her daughter on March 11th 2022.
Marina’s 23-year-old son is still in Kyiv, he has a military exception but works at a drug rehabilitation centre.
‘For over a year, I’ve only seen my son on the phone. He’s doing okay but he misses his family. He’s not a soldier because he has a medical exception, but he might still be called up’.
Marina has Polish roots, one of her grandparents is from the country. She learned the language at home and is continuing to develop her knowledge of the language by taking lessons now.
‘I am currently working in the care home attached to the church, I enjoy it. In Ukraine, I was a consultant for the family construction business. I am an economics graduate. We also opened a care home for addicts and provided therapy. We opened it in 2013, one year before the war in Kramatorsk. The centre still exists but our flat was flattened by a bomb over the summer.’
Marina is grateful to be in Poland, she feels that the country is beautiful and that people have warmly opened their hearts to her family and other refugees. She and her family can build a life for themselves.
Natalia is a 43-year-old psychologist from Kyiv, Ukraine.
She left Kyiv on March 4th 2022 and arrived in Bytom, Poland just six days later.
‘We travelled by train from Kyiv to Lviv, then we got a refugee bus which took about 12 hours (and we were standing). For the last 3km to the border, we walked. I travelled with my sixteen-year-old son, my twelve-year-old daughter, our family dog and our family cat. We made camouflage nets to hide us as we waited to cross’.
The family decided to leave Kyiv when they saw a rocket destroy their neighbour’s house. Unfortunately, Natalia’s husband was unable to leave with them, so they had to leave him behind.
Back home, Natalia was a psychologist and now, in Poland, she is using her skills to help support refugees at our humanitarian aid partner’s community centre for displaced people.
‘I am working with autistic children and adults with post-traumatic stress. Refugees are having problems communicating with their families. Also, a lot of people are struggling with depression’.
Natalia is a key part of our humanitarian aid partner’s community centre. The centre offers adult art classes, children’s art classes, and a children’s playgroup. Natalia is part of the children’s team at the centre, where she delivers the art classes alongside parents and the play session for the children. These sessions are so important because they help to encourage the children to be creative and playful. When these children are surrounded by so much uncertainty and despair, having safe spaces to have a ‘normal’ childhood is imperative.
‘People miss Ukraine. But I don’t want to go back to Ukraine at the moment. My son is sixteen and might be taken into the army. If I went back to Ukraine, I might not be allowed to return to Poland because the army needs psychologists.’
For a year now, Natalia has only seen her husband through her phone as he works as part of the army’s communications team. He could be drafted to the frontlines at any point.
Individuals like Natalia demonstrate the resilience of Ukrainian refugees. Her work with our humanitarian aid partner demonstrates her hope to build community and safe spaces for Ukrainian people to navigate extremely difficult times.
Olena works on the welcome desk at our humanitarian partner, MedAir’s shelter for refugees.
Olena arrived in Poland on March 1st 2022 from her home in Kyiv, Ukraine with her eight-year-old son and five-year-old daughter.
‘I love this job because I can help other people from Ukraine and going to work helps me stop thinking about my own problems and lets me be useful to other people’.
Olena’s parents joined her in Poland shortly after her arrival and her sister had been living in Poland for the past 15 years.
‘All of my family are here except for my husband who is in Ukraine. He’s in the military and is in Germany for training. Before this, he was a soldier in an office but now he’s going to the front lines, so he needs weapons training. Maybe one day I’ll see him at the border crossing…’
Olena is another example of a mother raising her children without the help and support of their father and the certainty of an eventual family reunion. Despite the strain this would have, she remains the optimist.
‘What’s important is what’s happening today, I’m trying not to think about tomorrow. The fact that I’m with my parents and my children is good’.
To go to All We Can’s Refugee Week 2023 webpage to download our latest resources, click here: Refugee Week – order your resources – All We Can