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Refugee stories: Ukraine

Two moving personal accounts from people who have fled the conflict in Ukraine and sought hope away from home.

Edited by Tarryn Pegna | 16 Jun 2023

Refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine stand on a roadside. A mother zips up their suitcase while a father holds a small baby.

Ukrainians fleeing the ongoing conflict in the country. Many have become refugees in surrounding countries as home is no longer safe for them. Credit: Kevin Buckert/Unsplash]

Trigger warning

This story describes situations that some readers may find upsetting.

What would compel you to leave your home? What would it take for you to run, leaving your belongings, your friends, your neighbours, your job, your country, maybe even your language… everything you’ve known so far?

World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day falls on 20 June each year. It’s a day dedicated to honouring the people who have had to do just that – people who have fled their places of comfort when they, sometimes in a matter of minutes, have lost every trace of what was once comforting.

The UN defines a refugee as someone who, ‘owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is… unwilling to return to it.’

27.1 million refugees, 82 million stories

At the end of 2021, there were 27.1 million refugees around the world. Half of them were under the age of 18.

In many countries, Tearfund works to help improve the lives of people who are refugees or who are displaced within their own countries. Conflict, economic hardship and natural disasters (often caused by climate change) have forced more than 82 million people around the world from their homes. The massive numbers can seem overwhelming, but each of those statistics is a unique person, with a name and a story. Each person represented by the numbers is loved by God. Each person deserves the opportunity to thrive.

Church response

The church is often in the best place to be first to respond when people have been displaced. These two refugee stories come from people who have fled the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and have found support through Tearfund’s local church partners.

‘I don’t want anyone to experience what we went through.’
Daryna, refugee from Ukraine


‘I don’t want anyone to experience what we went through,’ says Daryna*, who used to live in Mariupol, southern Ukraine. Reports are that 90 per cent of the city’s infrastructure has been destroyed.

‘We grew up in Mariupol,’ says Daryna. ‘When the war started, explosions were rumbling around, and we didn't want to leave. We hid in the basement of our house and wanted to wait it out. 

‘We were hoping that this nightmare would soon be over.’

A city in flames

‘But then Mariupol burst into flames. It was surreal – like a scene in an American movie. The whole city was shaking with explosions. Trucks and tanks were burning in the streets. All around us were hundreds of burnt out skeletons of apartment buildings destroyed by shelling.

‘At some point, we stopped understanding what was happening.

‘Coming out of the basement, I acted on instinct alone. At some point, even the roaring fighter planes flying overhead and the sound of machine gun fire nearby ceased to be frightening. We simply went out in search of food and water.

‘The only thing that did not cease to be frightening were the bodies of people lying in the street – dozens, no, hundreds of people. They lay there for weeks, and no one buried them. People tried to cover them with something, but there were too many.

‘It is difficult to put this horror into words.

‘And it is especially frightening to see children die. They were not guilty of anything.

‘We saw our neighbours among the dead. They had gone out to fetch water a week earlier and never came back.’

‘It is difficult to put this horror into words.’
Daryna, refugee from Ukraine

The decision to leave

‘It was very damp and very cold in the basement. There was no electricity or heating and there was very little food left. Somehow, we managed to find a working phone and contact our children. You can't imagine how happy I was to hear the children's voices and to know they were alive.

‘The children convinced us to flee the city, but it was very dangerous. A few days earlier, a convoy of cars had been fired upon by tanks on the way out. Cars in general were shot at like in a shooting gallery. A lot of people died there.

‘Despite the risk, we got out of the city. Kind people helped us.

‘We left everything we had in that apartment – all our memories.

‘Our whole lives had to fit into one suitcase.’

Refuge across the border

Daryna has been able to receive support through our local church partner in Moldova.

‘We reached Chisinau in April. We were helped with housing and provided with everything we needed. And only then did I begin to understand and feel everything that had happened to me.

‘For the first few months, I could not come to my senses. I just lay in bed all day. If only I had a cure for all the horror and pain I went through in Mariupol. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep.

‘Acquaintances told me that our house was destroyed, but they say authorities will try to rebuild it. So, I still hope to return home one day, and this hope helps me to go on living.

‘Recently I was helped to get a job in Chisinau. It helps me to recover a little – to take my mind off things. And I am surrounded by such good people, which helps me so much.

‘I am so grateful for the help that I have been given. It is so nice to come to the centre and to see the staff and other young people who help us. It's so pleasant to be welcomed as if you were a family member. Thank all of you for your support.’

A burnt out skeleton of a shelled building in Ukraine

The burnt out skeleton of a building shelled during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Many have lost homes and become refugees in neighbouring countries. Credit: Norman Koroliuk/Unsplash

Andriy and Anna*

Husband and wife Andriy and Anna used to live in the Odessa region of Ukraine with their five children. Reluctantly, they fled their home when shelling began.

‘At first,’ says Andriy, ‘we thought we would wait out the situation.’ Soon, however, Andriy and Anna started to fear that it was too dangerous to stay.

‘We decided to leave Ukraine with the whole family. We had a hard time getting to Chisinau because of the 20km queues to the border and the terrible cold that came in early March.

‘But a Christian family helped us and we got to the city. We were hosted by a family from the church, and [Tearfund’s local church partner] helped cover all the heating costs. It was amazing how much warmth and love we felt here.

Where to go, what to do?

‘At first, my wife and I were completely disoriented. We did not understand what was happening – what to do or where to run next.

‘Here, [through Tearfund’s local church partner], we felt very supported. We received beds and bed linen and blankets for our whole family. We were given food and hygiene supplies. They even helped us to buy clothes, because we had fled in winter boots, but by May it was so hot that we couldn’t wear our winter clothes.

‘We didn’t have any money to afford all of that, so we are so thankful for this support.

‘We feel that we are safe for now.’

‘We feel that we are safe for now.’
Andriy and Anna, refugees from Ukraine

Building hope away from home

‘The team here helped us find employment and my wife and our daughters have received counselling and art therapy to help them start to emotionally heal and recover. We were also helped to get our youngest son and daughter into one of the local schools. They were very warmly received and they have worked hard to adjust.

‘A few months after we arrived in Moldova, we were invited to move to Ireland, where I was offered a good job and housing. For a while we did not dare to make such a serious change in life. We were still hoping that the war would end soon and we could go home.

‘However, things got worse. And after much discussion, we decided to accept the offer and leave.

‘We are very grateful for the generous support we received from [Tearfund’s local church partner] and in the church. Our life has changed thanks to this time spent in Moldova. Thanks to everyone who supported this project financially and prayerfully.

‘May God bless you.’

*All names have been changed to protect identity.

Pray for refugees

    • Lift up every person around the world who has had to flee from their homes and all that they have known in order to find safety. Ask God to provide for their needs.
    • Pray for emotional healing and for comfort for the many who have experienced or witnessed scenes and situations of an extremely traumatic nature.Bring before God the situations around the world that result in people having to flee.
    • Pray that there will be peace and restoration, and for the Church to be actively involved in every level of this restoration.

Edited by

Edited by  Tarryn Pegna

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