"When you are already in the village, go down the main street until the end. There is a turn to the right, my son will meet you and show you the way", Mrs. Svitlana explains over the phone.
In autumn there are days when it feels like summer has suddenly returned to give us some sun and warmth. And today is such a day. Serhii meets us on the corner of the street in a thin sweater. He says that the good weather has been lasting for almost a week. There are not many autumn colors yet, although it is usually different in October.
Bazar is a village in Zhytomyr region. Forests are everywhere here. And the buildings are typical for Polissia - neat wooden houses on both sides of the roads. Svitlana's family lives in one of them.
Serhii is 13 years old. He has two younger sisters and an older brother. Everyone is at home, except for the brother living separately, because he found a job in the city.
First a ginger dog appears in the yard, followed by a little girl. "This is our dog Knopa, and there is our cat Marquis. Marquis, don't run away!", Vika laughs and looks at us curiously. She is five, the youngest in the family. Iryna is eight.
The bright-eyed girls look like butterflies in their colorful dresses. They flutter and circle around the yard. "They are my little helpers," Svitlana smiles. "They clean and wash the dishes in turn. The woman wipes her wet hands, she has just finished washing. Children and adults' clothes are already drying in the sun.
"Do you use a washing machine?", I ask. "No, with my hands...", she answers. I am really surprised, "But it's so much hard work!". She says she is used to it.
It's always like that in the village. Work is not a part of life, but life itself. Everyday is often exhausting. Waking up at dawn, doing the housework. For Svitlana it doesn't seem like a lot - chickens, dogs, cats. There was also a goat, but they had to sell it. They also have a considerable vegetable garden. This year there are lots of fruit, thank God. And then they have to cook for everyone. So for the whole day you will be tired of duties.
Two years ago the woman was widowed, now she is the only one bearing responsibility for the family.
"I would like to go to work, but it is difficult in the village. A sawmill and shops, you can't get a job anywhere else," says Svitlana. "They offer me a job in Zhytomyr, but I have no one to leave my children with. We live on social assistance from the state, I earn a little money - I milk cows when someone asks. This is enough only for food, but not for clothes or shoes. We've bought some firewood recently. Winter is coming soon and we try to prepare for it", she says.
But everything would not be so bad if it wasn't for the war. It broke into the village at dawn on February 24. "At 5 a.m. drones were flying, buzzing like airplanes," Svitlana recalls. "And at 7 p.m. rockets started flying. One of them hit the house next door, our windows fell out, the walls cracked. Everything around was shaking and rumbling. The children were scared, they fell on the floor. My friend was with them then, I was milking cows in the other part of the village. When I came back Ira said, "Mom, there was thunder, a very strong one. But why did it break our windows?"
The broken windows were replaced with new ones in the summer thanks to a charitable reconstruction project from Caritas-Spes Ukraine. The builders even made a new roof at the entrance to the house, now it looks like a shelter from the rain. As long as it was warm we sat there enjoying the sun with the little ones before school. The school in the village does not work, there is no one to take kids to the neighboring one, so Svitlana and the girls master the school curriculum on their own. Serhii also studies on his own. The Internet was brought to the house, but he needs a computer to study online. Or at least a mobile phone. The family has no money to buy them.
"Many villagers left during the war," says Svitlana. "There was an opportunity to evacuate to Poland or other European countries, the packed buses left. But we stayed. My eldest son is 18, he works near Kyiv. I did not want to leave him here alone. And where would we go? There's no place like home. If only the war was over... Everything else can be handled."
Vika's favorite pastime is drawing. But she promises to show us her drawings next time. "She is a little embarrassed by the attention. She loves dolls and together with her sister plays house. Sometimes Marquis joins them. But they cannot put him to bed, he always stubbornly runs away from the crib. And when we went to the forest with my mother to pick mushrooms, he got lost there among the bushes. We barely found him. We dried a lot of mushrooms, it will be a delicious soup in winter". In summer, they picked berries and made jam. Mrs. Svitlana loves to cook.
On the stove in the summer kitchen borshch is simmering.
"Which of your mom's dishes do you like the most?" I ask. "Stuffed cabbage rolls and cutlets," Irynka answers. "And pancakes. And potatoes," Vika adds.
"And Serhii asks me to cook pasta most of all. You know, with cracklings. Why are you silent, son? He's not very talkative," Svitlana smiles.
Mrs. Svitlana's family will receive support under the Family to Family program. The participants of this joint Ukrainian-Polish project are 503 Ukrainian families affected by the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Funds for its implementation will come from Polish families and parishes of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland through Caritas Polska. During the first year, Family to Family has the status of a pilot project and covers the territory of the Kyiv-Zhytomyr Diocese: Zhytomyr, Kyiv, Chernihiv and Cherkasy regions.