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«We lived in the basement for nine months. When rockets were flying at Kharkiv and everything was exploding around us, we were on our knees and praying...»

«We lived in the basement for nine months. When rockets were flying at Kharkiv and everything was exploding around us, we were on our knees and praying...»

Marina and Yuriy are a married couple from Kharkiv. Their apartment in North Saltivka is on the 16th floor. So at the beginning of the great war, the planes over the houses, the first fires and explosions were clearly visible. "My two children, grandmother and brother and I guessed that there would be a war. And when we woke up in the morning from the explosions, my first word was “‘It has begun,’” Marina recalls.

For the first week, the family hid from the explosions in the corridor, then went down to the basement. They had to live there for nine months. "The children were scared on the 16th floor: when the explosions were nearby, the chandelier was shaking a lot. We saw and heard everything," says Marina.

When the family first came down, there was nothing in the basement: they had to sleep on pallets. Later, they found folding doors, put in a light and connected hot water, and laid carpets on the floor to make it warmer. Then they even installed Wi-Fi, a stove and a washing machine. In total, four families with 10 children were hiding there - all from the upper floors.

Marina's eldest daughter, 14-year-old Nastya, says life in the basement was terrible. "Although there was someone to communicate with, the conditions where we slept were terrible."

To calm the children, they kept them occupied with games on their phones, and headphones. "If it weren't for phones, I don't know what would happen to children's psyche," Marina admits.

Among their vivid memories of that time are the visits of Father Wojciech, Director of Caritas-Spes Kharkiv. "The children's eyes immediately started to light up, he played board games with them," says Marina. “They often remember him even now. There they were very closed in themselves, they didn't communicate with anyone." The woman shows us the pictures she painted with the children in the basement - they were also brought by Wojciech. "He helped us a lot. I also brought something to sleep on - folding beds."

When asked why they did not evacuate the city, Marina answered firmly: "Kharkiv is our city, we will not go anywhere from here. It was terrible, the conditions were bad in the basement, but we could sleep there and the children were safer."

To keep the children safe, Marina and Yuriy decided to rent an apartment in another area. Before receiving financial assistance, they had to live in a cramped one-room apartment: "Twenty-four square meters was all we had for four people and a dog at the time. Your project saves many families. It allows us to rent housing. For many, this is the most necessary," Marina admits.

Now the family lives in a two-room apartment, but only the children have beds. The parents still sleep on the floor on mattresses. "The main thing is that the children are calmer here. I remember the summer of last year, when we were in the basement, kneeling and praying," says Marina. At these words, tears roll from her eyes.

Nastya shows us the room where she now lives with her sister, and the pictures of cats they painted in the same basement.

Now Nastya and her sister can already play near the house, and as soon as the air alarm, they immediately run home. Marina says that she would really like to return to her own apartment, where her mother currently lives, but the children are afraid and refuse. "It's scary there. I'm afraid of night flights and what might fly to us," Nastya shares.

Their father, Yuriy, worked at a car wash before the full-scale invasion, and Marina was an administrator in a network of social stores. However, the car wash came under direct fire, so the husband later went to work as a taxi driver in a rented car, and the wife is currently not working. "I'm offered night shifts, but at night there are explosions, the windows shake, so I can't leave the children," she explains.

Yuri also has two sons from his first marriage. Both went to defend the country after February 24. "The husband also wanted to go, but for now with us," says Marina at last. “We are all waiting for the end of the war. This is our greatest common dream, which does not even need to be voiced."

The Ukrainian-Polish project "Family to Family" has been running since October last year in the Kyiv-Zhytomyr Diocese, and since February this year - in the Kharkiv-Zaporizhzhia Diocese. "Caritas-Spes Ukraine implements it in cooperation with and thanks to the support of Caritas Poland. The project is aimed at supporting Ukrainian families in financial need and affected by the consequences of the war in Ukraine.

28 August 2023
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