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«We believe that Ukraine will win and everything will be fine. After all, there are so many sensitive souls and hearts next to us...» The story of a family from Kherson region who lost their home twice: due to the occupation and after the explosion of the Kakhovka Dam

«We believe that Ukraine will win and everything will be fine. After all, there are so many sensitive souls and hearts next to us...» The story of a family from Kherson region who lost their home twice: due to the occupation and after the explosion of the Kakhovka Dam

"In February 2022, we were expecting a baby. On February 18, at three in the morning, my husband took me to the maternity hospital in Kherson, where our boy was born. We stayed in the hospital because after a difficult delivery, both I and the child had health problems. My husband went home to Oleshky to come back for us soon. But February 24 came and our life suddenly turned into a horror movie."

Remembering those days, Iryna is unable to calm her emotions. Like every family hoping for a first child, Iryna and Ilya thought a lot about the future. They were preparing. The young woman sewed several sets of underwear with her own hands - "such soft gray sides with a white star, big white bows..." And she imagined how their baby would sleep sweetly in the beautiful white bed they had bought in advance.

War is an ugly, ruthless fruit of other people's unhealthy fantasies. It destroys everything in its path and takes away the most precious. Already at 11 am on February 24, Oleshky came under Russian occupation.  The invaders hung their flag in the town. Three days later, Russian troops captured Kherson. All this time, fierce battles for the Antonivskyi Bridge were going on. And every day Iryna prayed that the bridge would survive so that her husband could get to them. "A life began that I could only see before in a scary movie... Endless explosions over the hospital... Helicopters flying right over our heads... Their sound scared us, young mothers, to death. We wrapped our babies in three blankets to protect them from the damp and constantly ran from the hospital room to the basement. The children started to get sick. Two babies died of hypothermia. This was the first week of the war... It was a complete horror."

Iryna says that time was the most difficult in her life. She and her baby were ready to be discharged, but she had no idea where to go next. There was danger everywhere. Only a month later, Ilya was able to take her and her son home. "This is not how I imagined my exit from the hospital," she sighs, "I dreamed of flowers, beautiful photos, not the sounds of explosions and flashes of fire..." But even at home, in Oleshky, things were not as they used to be. No food in the shops, no medicine in the pharmacies. We had to stand in line for half a day to buy bread. A week later, when we learned that we had a chance to get out of the occupied Kherson region, we grabbed it like a lifeline. "We had only one night to pack the most necessary things and set off into the unknown," she recalls. "The evacuation route was not easy either. We were constantly hearing heavy shelling, everything around us was on fire and covered in smoke, and soon almost the entire convoy - about two hundred vehicles - returned. However, we continued on, my husband was determined, insisting that we had to get out that day. We passed many checkpoints. The Lord helped us, and a miracle happened. At the last checkpoint, they did not want to let us out, but after long negotiations, we managed to agree with the military (both Russian and ours) on a corridor. The shelling stopped for half an hour, and our convoy of ten cars escaped from hell..."

That's how they got to Mykolaiv. That's how their lives were divided into "before" and "after"...

Before the war, Iryna had her own small business: she was a fashion designer who organized a sewing shop for stylish clothes. She had industrial sewing machines and was used to buying fabrics, accessories, and threads in advance. She kept part of the stock at home. Ilya made furniture and set up a workshop in his garage. All this remained in Oleshky. All this went under water after Russia blew up the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station. Iryna says they saw their neighborhood on video, where dogs were rescued from greenhouses. Even the roofs of the houses were not visible. Her friends say that the water near their house has not yet completely receded: "Somewhere there is knee-deep water... Everything I loved, everything I lived for, is now rotting and disappearing forever."

For more than a year, the family has been living in Irpin, Kyiv region. They live in the apartment of their friends, who allow them to pay only for utilities. Ilya serves as a deacon at the church, and Iryna is raising their son. In their free time, they work with teenage children and are engaged in artistic creativity. "We are a religious family. We used to go to church in our hometown, and we still serve God today. Matviyko is growing up. Our son is the "same age" as the war, he has not actually experienced a single peaceful day. But thanks to our defenders, we are able to live in relative peace and quiet here in Kyiv region..."

Time passes, and the wounds slowly heal, Iryna says. "You let go of the past, you realize: The Lord is merciful if He has led us, blessed us, given our family everything... And if He has saved our lives, it is a gift. And this support from the Family to Family project is also a miracle. For us, it is a great encouragement, something that pleasantly amazes, warms, and gives us strength. Thanks to the funds from the project, we are able to buy food, clothes, toys, and books for our child. It seemed like we had lost everything, but we met so many good people at the same time. Our family used to be the kind of family that helps others in need. And now complete strangers in Poland think of us and want to help. We have learned many lessons from this war, we have drawn many conclusions. There was a total reassessment of values. We have become completely different. But most importantly, we have not lost hope. We believe in the future of a strong, renewed Ukraine. It can't be otherwise, because so many kind and sensitive hearts beat in unison with ours."

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.

The photos are from the family archive.

10 November 2023
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