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"Mom, what should we do?" - children ask as soon as they hear explosions. They want to come home so badly, they keep asking: when?"

"Mom, what should we do?" - children ask as soon as they hear explosions. They want to come home so badly, they keep asking: when?"

Oleksandr and Nataliya are residents of Kozacha Lopan, an urban-type village in Kharkiv Oblast, 5 kilometres from the border with Russia. In February 2022, the family had their own house and farm and were waiting for the birth of their third child. However, on March 14, the village was occupied, and an urgent decision was made to go to Kharkiv. "If we had stayed, I wouldn't have had a husband, and I wouldn't have given birth," Natalia says, looking at her son.

The family settled with Oleksandr's mother in Kharkiv. One day during lunch, the shelling began, blowing out the windows in the entire apartment. It was in the middle of April, two weeks before the birth. “The glass flew at us. My husband was wounded in the neck and face. I was thrown into the corridor by a wave. I don't know how nothing happened to the child," Natalia shares.

Oleksandr covered the broken windows with plywood, and the family continued to live there.

In May 2022, they received the status of internally displaced persons and received a small amount of money from the government to help with living expenses. They were also moved to Dnipro. Nataliya explains: "There were friends there, more peace and more space for us." However, it was not possible to find a job, so in October the family returned to Kharkiv: "My husband was called to work. He works in construction. At first, they boarded up the windows of the Kharkiv Regional Administration, but after that the work stopped again. Now he mows the grass and sweeps the yards."

On New Year's Eve, after the de-occupation of Kozacha Lopan, Oleksandr and Natalia returned to their village to look at their house. They were shocked to find it had been looted. "Everything was taken away - dishes, blankets, chairs, carpets, children's things, even a wooden gate from the garden was taken," Nataliya recalls. “Family photos were lying on the floor. Nothing remains of our previous life. I'm glad that the walls are still standing."

There are 4 houses left on their street, before the full-scale invasion there were 17. During the occupation, many residents were tortured. "We want to return home, but we don't know when it will be possible. It is difficult to start all over again. But I remember how the convoys drove through the street, how local people came to my husband and threatened him with an ax and knives. Our village was divided into two halves, those who were for Russia and who were for Ukraine," Natalia recalls. Today, only elderly people remain there. Kozacha Lopan is still under constant attack.

We are talking to the family in a rented two-room apartment in Kharkiv. The furniture is old. Belongings of previous owners are on the shelves. The dog Pulia (which means Bullet in Ukrainian) runs near us. "This dog was given to our son as a present, and he chose a name for him,” Natalia says. Rostislav is 5 years old. He has grown up quickly. “At home, he often helped me in the garden, now he plays more on the playground with other children in front of the house.”

Emotional fatigue and problems with children's eyes are one of the effects of war. "We live one day at a time. Everything is for our children. My son often asks if we will go for a walk tomorrow, to which I answer: "We will survive the night and see."

The family says that they have enough money for everything, although they live very modestly. The assistance received from the "Rodyna Rodyna" project is spent on rent and utilities, the purchase of diapers and food. "I don't know if we could afford a separate apartment now if it weren't for your support and payments as displaced persons," Nataliya admits.

She hopes that their house in their village will survive — and they will have a place to return to someday. “The children really want to go home. When there are explosions here, they wake up and ask: "Mom, what to do?" And you start to calm them down," Natalia sighs.

Finally, Oleksandr, his children and Pulia go to see us off. On the man's hand are blue and yellow bracelets, symbolizing his family's choice to support Ukraine, a choice that took their home and nearly their lives.

1 August 2023
Система Orphus
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