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World Refugee Day: “one day we could never go back home”

Maryna (left) with her colleague in the shelter centre, Yana.
Maryna (left) with her colleague from the Save the Children shelter centre, Yana.

On World Refugee Day, Maryna, a shelter coordinator for Save the Children in Ukraine writes about her experience during the conflict: her family’s been forced to move five times. Since 2014, we started our teams in Ukraine have been helping to protect children and their families and providing them with food, shelter, education and other support. We’ve reached 53,500 people so far, including nearly 34,000 children and aim to reach 320,000 by the end of 2015.

On 26 May 2014, we went to the city centre to drop my eldest daughter off at kindergarten and then suddenly, we could never go back home.

I used to live next to Donetsk airport, with my husband and two children, Eugiene, now seven years old and Zllatta, three. That morning they closed the area off and we could see helicopters flying above our homes and shooting at the airport.

People started running. I was thinking, what should I do? Stay with the car so we can drive away? But what about my baby? Should I grab her and run? And then something exploded so loudly that I just grabbed her and ran.

We left that day and never went back.

The first place we moved to was Horlivka. But the shelling started there in July.

At night I would lie in bed awake with my kids next to me, and I would cover them with my arms, as if that would keep them safe.

I remember one night Eugiene woke up because of an explosion. She said, “Mum, someone with a big hammer is trying to break down our door.”

The explosive wave was so strong that it was like it was beating on our door.

A difficult farewell


A phone recording of the shelling made by Maryna

My youngest daughter was taking this all worse than her sister. She was crying all the time, clinging onto me and not sleeping. She’s still not ok now and is always checking to see if I am there at night.

In Svetagorsk, we ran out of money and there was no electricity or water, so we needed to move on. But there was a problem with my father because he couldn’t walk. We tried to persuade him to come with us, but he wouldn’t; he had barely left his own apartment in five years.

It was really difficult. I called him ten times a day. Both my father and my husband’s father died last year – I think it was because of the stress. A lot of elderly people have been deeply affected by this conflict.

We went to Krasnyi Liman and then back to Horlivka, thinking with the September 2014 ceasefire agreement it would be okay and we had family there.

But again, the shelling started. I knew that I couldn’t survive it again.

When others would go to sleep, I would take Zllatta in my arms and run around the house, and I didn’t know how to stop. I was running and running and they were shooting and shooting.

A reason to be proud

I started to send out hundreds of CVs to try and find a job, because we had no money left. And luckily, I got this job as a shelter coordinator with Save the Children in Dnepropetrovsk in January.

But even coming here, where there hasn’t been fighting, wasn’t easy. Eugiene was meant to start school last October, but a school in Donetsk was hit by shelling so they closed temporarily. She had problems in the beginning, but she’s doing really well now.

I’m really proud to be working for Save the Children. Last winter, Save the Children gave out 5,400 cash grants to support families prepare for the weather. It meant families could buy what they needed, like winter boots or heating.

Thinking about how we were when we arrived in Dnepropetrovsk, I know that this is the support needed. And knowing this has made a big difference in my work.

I can say to the people, “I know what’s happening to you, it happened to me.”

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