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"We hope to hold out." The story of a large family from Vovchansk that withstood the occupation and started everything from scratch

"We hope to hold out." The story of a large family from Vovchansk that withstood the occupation and started everything from scratch

Olena with her husband Oleksandr and three children went through the entire occupation of Vovchansk. The border with Russia is only 5 km from the city, so it was captured on the first day of the full-scale invasion. However, the family held on: Oleksandr continued to work as a fireman, and his wife took care of the children. "We were waiting for our soldiers. For release," she recalls.

Olena had the opportunity to leave the occupied city through Russia, but she refused to do so without her husband. He says that he really wanted to be all together: "In Vovchansk, my parents, my home, my dog. We tried not to go out, not to communicate with anyone. The Russians didn't touch our family, and that made it possible to stay."

When the city was liberated, the family moved to Kharkiv - at least a little further from danger. Later, they got settled: they rented an apartment, and the eldest daughter, Mila, entered university. Elena says, the girl is following in her father's footsteps and wants to become a psychologist at the fire department. Oleksandr devoted himself to the profession of saving lives for 20 years and is still working. In particular, he goes on calls to Vovchansk.

Despite constant shelling her mother in-law is still living in her hometown. "We understand that, her whole life was spent there. You feel at home there," Olena shares. She herself never returned to Vovchansk after the de-occupation - because it is very dangerous, and she still remembers the explosion on a nearby street a year ago. In addition, there is no school or kindergarten in the city due to enemy attacks. Olena’s husband does return for work. "The man goes there. I can't yet. Although the children miss their home, their friends, the river very much." Today, out of more than 17,000 residents, about 3,500 remain in Vovchansk.

Next, the family plans to stay in Kharkiv because there are more prospects for their children. Olena says the war has taken its toll on their psyche.

"Herman, our youngest, is afraid of loud sounds. Even when we are walking and he hears the roar of dump trucks, he asks to go home," the woman says.

Little Herman is only three years old, his brother Timur is 12, his sister Mila is 17. The size of the family means, under Ukrainian rules, they would be allowed to resettle somewhere safe with their dad. They however want to stay in Ukraine. "For a man, his work, saving others is important. How can we go? This is our home," Olena explains.

There is also Leo, a beloved but furry family member.  He is also an immigrant from Vovchansk. Olena says he also misses his home  "Now it is difficult to say what will happen tomorrow. Everything has changed, we live one day at a time. Yes, we are now in a nice city, we have comfortable conditions. But we did not want this move. We lived in Vovchansk all our lives. If it weren't for the war, we would still be living now..."

The family spends the financial aid received from Caritas on the children. "Mostly food, fruit, sometimes sweets, I want to pamper them," Olena says. She remembers how during the occupation she gave the children sweets. Saying it helped to calm them down and distracted them from their current situation.

Olena and Oleksandr focus on their children. They are their strength and the reason they are starting again and building a new life in Kharkiv. "I really want them to get a good education and stay in Ukraine. Yes, it is not easy for us, but all Ukrainians are going through it now. We hope that we will endure."

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.

22 November 2023
Система Orphus
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