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Kateryna’s story: finding shelter in Moldova

When it became too dangerous to stay in Ukraine, Kateryna took her children and fled to find shelter in Moldova.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 03 Nov 2023

Bright yellow sunflowers grow in a field in Ukraine with blue sky above. Sunflowers have been a symbol of peace in Ukraine for many years.

Throughout Ukraine’s history, the sunflower has been used as a symbol of peace. In June 1996, US, Russian and Ukrainian defence ministers planted sunflowers in a ceremony to celebrate Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons. More than 25 years later, and in very different circumstances, the meaning of the sunflowers as symbols of peace has not changed. Credit: Igor Karimov/Unsplash

Ramesh Rajasingham, director of coordination in the UN humanitarian office, has been quoted in the Guardian newspaper as saying that more than 18 million Ukrainians are currently in need of humanitarian assistance. Official UN figures show 9,900 civilians verified as having been killed there, but Mr Rajasingham went on to say that ‘the actual number is certainly higher’.

Against this backdrop of ongoing death and destruction (18 October 2023 was the 600th day of this conflict), many Ukrainians have fled the country in fear for their lives.

Tearfund has been supporting a response through local church partners in the region. They cannot undo the pain or trauma and cannot replace lost homes, loved ones and ways of life, but by meeting people’s needs where they are, they can bring hope, comfort and practical help.

‘The church cannot replace lost homes, loved ones and ways of life, but they can bring hope, comfort and practical help.’

We’re sharing this moving interview with Kateryna* who fled the war in Ukraine with her children and has taken shelter in neighbouring Moldova, where she has found support through Tearfund’s local church partner.

An interview with Kateryna

Please tell me about yourself. What's your name, where are you from?

My name is Kateryna. I came to Moldova with my children. To be more precise, I escaped from the war. Before the invasion, my family and I lived in the city of Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine.

What was your life like before coming to Moldova? Do you have a family, children, a job?

I have three children. Life has always been busy for me. My eldest son, Sasha, has had cerebral palsy since birth and requires a lot of attention, effort and care. For a long time, he couldn't walk or move properly, but together we put in a lot of effort to help him move independently by creating a suitable environment for him. I also have a teenage daughter and a younger son. My main focus was on taking care of my children.

How did you cope with the first days after the war started? What was the most challenging part?

It was difficult to comprehend and accept why and how it happened. Even now, I don't have an answer, I can't logically explain these questions. I managed to stay composed during the initial days of the war. We spent a week in the basement but, realising that my children were in danger, I gathered myself and left to ensure their safety above all else.

Why did you come to Moldova? Who helped you get to Chisinau?

I didn't know anyone in Chisinau when we arrived. On a cold morning, in early March, we reached the Palanca border. I didn't specifically choose Moldova; I was simply fleeing somewhere far from the war. When we arrived at the border, some young guys just took us in their car and brought us to Chisinau. There, they accommodated us and gave us a warm place. All of this happened without questions, money or conditions. I remember the kindness of those people now, and it gives me goosebumps.

The people here in Moldova are really kind. After recovering a bit from the initial shock, I began to address more pressing matters, like our next steps and how to settle down. I knew this wouldn't end soon. I decided to stay in Moldova with my children because the conditions here are somewhat similar to Ukraine, even in terms of language and culture. And here we are, a year and a half later.

How have you spent the time here?

I must honestly admit that, thanks to local assistance, we didn't experience drastic changes. I quickly found everything necessary for the children and recreated for them what they had back home in terms of activities. I also went back to school to pursue a profession I had dreamt of while living in Ukraine but couldn't afford there. It's undoubtedly very challenging to juggle everything, but I believe it's necessary for me to keep my mind off the war. I am so grateful for the help we've received here and for the acceptance and care we've felt from people. I can see how my children are gradually adapting and finding some peace.

How did you learn about our organisation [Tearfund’s local partner], Beginning of Life?

Someone among my Ukrainian acquaintances recommended it, saying that there's a special atmosphere here and courses that can help. I came and met the team, and when they learnt about my son’s special needs, they immediately found special shoes for him and some other items needed for his developmental therapy. After all, I left home with just two backpacks, and everything else remained there. We are so grateful for the timely support. It was heartwarming that you helped us so quickly and responsively, putting in both your heart and resources.

We received material support we needed, especially during the winter period. Heating in Moldova is quite expensive, and I couldn't afford it. We tried to save, but still, the funds were not enough. I was deeply concerned about what we would do if we couldn't pay our bills, not to mention all the other expenses for food, medication and clothing. Then I was told there was an opportunity to participate in winter assistance and I thought, it's as if God sent you to me. We got through the winter, and I am so happy about that. Thank you to everyone who provides such help. It was really heartening to know that your organisation provides similar assistance to people in Ukraine, especially in Kherson and the Donetsk region, where the conflict has been ongoing for nine years.

‘The people who stand by us here are helping by giving a part of themselves. They are true heroes. Despite all the pain from the war, we find so much positivity and goodness in these individuals who keep us afloat, and that's important.’
Kateryna, refugee from Ukraine

You have become a part of therapeutic groups [run by Tearfund’s local partner]. How do you feel during these group meetings? And what important or useful things do you take away from these gatherings?

From the very first moment I entered and sat down at Urban Cafe, I felt a warmth. It was like being at home. It was so pleasant. We had the opportunity to come and chat for an hour or two, then we would engage in art therapy within the groups, and afterwards, we would stay for more conversations. This truly helps me. I get to hear other people and can share my own impressions and thoughts with them.

I'm really glad I joined the group. I walk into the centre on cloud nine, regardless of traffic, rain, or cold. In these meetings, it's like I'm diving into a different world, where there's no hostility or malice. I disconnect from my memories and thoughts and emotionally recharge. Moreover, I find answers to my questions – some of them, I can't even express how important they are.

Sometimes, the topic we discuss directly touches on what bothers me, revealing an entirely new perspective, often quite unexpected for me. Every time, my children ask what we did, and what we talked about, and I tell them everything in detail, showing them too. We even do some things together, and I see how my children are transformed. At home, we keep all the results of our art therapy – everything we create during the sessions. Over the year, we've created a whole wall of beauty, and when I look at it, I realise it's a symbol of recovery. I can actually see the dynamics of changes in colours and forms that I chose at the beginning and then six months later. I'm amazed by these observations myself. And I share them with others.

If the war were to end today, what would you do first?

Of course, I would be overjoyed, to say the least. Well, I suppose I would think about what I could do for the people in my city, knowing how deeply the war has traumatised them. I would probably gather everything I've experienced myself and organise one or two groups to help people, especially children, to recover.

There would also be a sense of longing to leave Moldova. Life has already settled here, my children and I have made friends, but still, there's a desire to return home. My son and I want to create a video about the assistance we received in Moldova. The people who stand by us here are helping by giving a part of themselves. They are true heroes. Despite all the pain from the war, we find so much positivity and goodness in these individuals who keep us afloat, and that's important.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

Pray for Ukraine

    • Pray for all those affected by the conflict. Ask God for comfort for every person who has lost loved ones, homes and a sense of peace. Pray that they will find places of rest and restoration.
    • Lift up all those who are responding to the humanitarian needs that this conflict has caused. Pray for resources to provide for people’s urgent needs. Ask God especially for his hand on local churches in the region and that they will be a source of strength, shelter, provision and encouragement.
    • Cry out to God for peace and for a complete end to the conflict. Pray that no more lives will be lost and that people will be able to start to rebuild their lives.

Written by

Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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