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"My children and I are alive, and this is what matters the most..."

"My children and I are alive, and this is what matters the most..."

A large Kharkiv family dreams of Victory and the time when they will be able to restore their damaged home and return to their native Saltivka.

Ilona and Oleksandr lived in Northern Saltivka in Kharkiv almost all their lives. They were raising a 3-year-old son and expecting their twins. "In November 2021, I found out that I was going to be a mom again," Ilona says, "We were so happy. But on the morning of February 24, we woke up to explosions. At first, we hoped it would be over, we didn't want to leave home."

To protect herself, Ilona hid in the corridor during the shelling. When it was very loud, she would go to the bathroom. There she slept with her son in her arms. "Our neighbors left, the neighborhood was empty. There was constant shelling and fear for my son and children," the woman says. The last straw, she says, was the inability to buy medicine in their neighborhood, "My son was sick, and we had to treat him. And then you stand in line for several hours, hearing constant 'bang-bang', because you need medicine, but there is simply no medicine in the pharmacies, and it's cold outside." After that, the family decided to move to a safer neighborhood. I was early March.

But the troubles were not over: as soon as the family settled in another apartment, the neighboring house was hit by shelling. "I was sleeping with my son when glass flew at us. My son is fine. I only had a cut on my arm. But I still hear the child's scream in my head," Ilona sighs.

Having gone through another stress, they decided to go to their relatives in Poltava region, where they lived until early May. Throughout the spring, she worried about whether she would be able to bear children. She tried to calm herself down and took constant injections to prevent the children's breathing problems due to the risk of premature birth. In May, the family decided to return to Kharkiv. "There were no conditions for children in the village. I wanted to give birth in Kharkiv."

The labor was not easy either. A cesarean section was followed by a shelling in the middle of the night on a second day. "We were all taken out into the corridor with the kids. But this time, fortunately, everything went well. I am glad that Sofia and Dmytro were born healthy. This is the most important thing for us," says Ilona.

Now she and her husband, three children and mother-in-law live in a one-room apartment. During the war, rockets hit their house twice, where they still have a three-room apartment. "Our house survived, but there are no windows. Our neighbors have no apartments on the floor..."

They really want to go home. Their son Ivanko remembers his room and favorite toys. But the family is worried whether there will be heating in winter? "This year it was only +17 degrees, which is cold for small children. Yes, there is electricity and water, but the house is almost empty. What if we have to leave again?" hesitates Ilona.

No one in the family has a job at the moment. The plant where Oleksandr worked as a machinist has been practically closed since February. "Now my husband goes to work once a week, sometimes twice. My mother-in-law also lost her job, and I am on maternity leave. So, in fact, our only income is social assistance for children," Ilona admits. The family says that the food parcels and the money they receive from volunteers help a lot. "The help from the Family to Family project is very significant for us. We were able to buy a stroller for the children and are saving money to replace the window. We really want to return home before winter, because it's very cramped here," the woman points to the floor where her husband sleeps. "After the first visit, your volunteers brought us a mattress for the floor, before that my husband slept only on blankets. So all this help really matters a lot for us. We even save money on food and don't buy any clothes at all."

Everyone is tired of wandering," Ilona admits with bitterness in her voice. "We dream of a time when the war will end and we will live at home. Ivanko, my eldest son, still runs to me and asks if what he hears is explosions. The child understands that it is war. I'm scared myself," she adds.

The once-populous Northern Saltivka now resembles a ghost neighborhood: closed shops and pharmacies, empty playgrounds, and half-ruined houses. Ilona, hugging her son, says that their family lives for their children, "My children and I are alive, that's what matters the most".

The family has been receiving monthly financial support as part of the Ukrainian-Polish "Family to Family" project  since October last year. Caritas-Spes Ukraine implements this project in cooperation with and thanks to the support of Caritas Polska, and it is aimed at supporting Ukrainian families in financial need and those affected by the consequences of the war in Ukraine. 

27 June 2023
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