"Mother, save us. Take us out," Iryna recalls the words of the children on the first day of the full-scale Russian invasion. The village of Tsyrkuny, where the family lived, is located immediately outside the Kharkiv district - on the road leading to Russia. They had no other choice but to leave their home, fleeing from the invaders.
On the night of February 24, Iryna and her sons (aged 7 and 11) moved to Kharkiv. Their shelter was the basement, where her stepfather worked as a shoe repairman before the war. "I, two children - Kyrylo and Danylo - my mother, stepfather and our shepherd settled in the basement. My grandfather, who was 81 years old at the time, refused to go with us," the woman says.
Then, in February, their village was occupied. And soon, the family completely lost contact with the grandfather. And in a few months, they discovered he had died from a shell, and the neighbours buried him in the garden. It was possible to rebury at the cemetery only after the village was liberated from the occupiers.
Iryna admits that they wanted to return home after the deoccupation in May 2022. Constant shelling lack of gas, and electricity stopped. And the house itself could not be saved: "Several shelled happened. The first, when the village was occupied, all the windows were broken and the second destroyed our house. There is no roof, the walls are damaged, besides, the Russian occupiers took everything they could out of the house. If we had returned, I don't know if we would be alive now."
A woman shows a photo of a house. She never thought she would be forced to leave it because she spent her whole life there: "Although now we are close to our relatives, in the same city, and at the same time separate. And there is no grandfather, no home...".
At first, there was almost nothing in the Kharkiv basement, where the family lived for a long time. One bed and toilet in the corridor, had to wash in a basin. Later, they arranged their life a little - relatively. There, in the basement, Iryna's parents still remain - they have nowhere to return. Cats were also taken from the village.
Children have grown up a lot during the war, sighs Iryna. And at the same time, they closed in on themselves: they hardly go outside, they are afraid of loud noises: "It's as if their childhood was stolen from them. All drawings are on the theme of war. Toys - automatic machines and "Lego".
In March-April 2022, a woman and her sons sought shelter in the Dnipro: "It was life in schools, hostels, kindergartens and sports clubs. It's very difficult... It's better to be in the basement with the parents than alone with the children, I don't know where." Therefore, they decided to return to Kharkiv.
Iryna has been volunteering since last May. She helped deliver humanitarian aid and food. During the curfew, she embroidered pictures - it helped to switch from the difficult reality. And now, when he has time, he embroiders with beads, but it is more of a hobby than an income. Iryna wants to find a job, but there are difficulties: "I'm looking for something that I can do remotely because my back hurts a lot. The parents are also disabled, so I can't leave the children with them for a long time."
Currently, Iryna rents a one-room apartment - she only pays for utilities. The owners of the house went abroad, also escaping from shelling. With the funds received from the "Family to Family" project, the woman was able to take care of children's health: treat the teeth and, put braces on the eldest son and perform an operation to remove adenoids on the youngest.
Today, she dreams of the time when she will live in her own house again, where her children will be able to feel safe and have their own space: "And so that we can go to bed peacefully, knowing that tomorrow we will wake up - and everything is fine, everyone is alive."
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.