Natalia and Volodymyr are 63 years old. They have been together since high school, and have raised four children in a happy marriage. After retirement, they made real their long-held dream: to work on the land and have their own house. They settled in Krutoiarivka, Kharkiv region, and began to organize their household, but like millions of Ukrainians, the war destroyed all their plans and dreams.
On February 24, 2022, Natalia and Volodymyr's eldest son volunteered for the army. "He told me, 'Mom, I'm going to serve. Since then, our quiet life has ended," Natalia says.
We are talking to the couple in their small house of about fifty square meters. It's relatively quiet and calm here now, but the woman is worried, recalling the terrible events of the beginning of the war. How her son's wife and their two children were evacuated from Kharkiv, how Volodymyr was going to dig a dugout in the garden for a shelter, and how he spent nights in the corridor to protect his family in case of need. "The children were afraid, of course, but I'm glad they didn't see what was happening in Kharkiv," Natalia says. Volodymyr adds, "I have never seen the city so empty. The children and their mother were sitting in the basement of a high-rise building, warming themselves on radiators."
The war was gradually taking more and more from the family: a rocket hit her son's house, and later her second son and son-in-law were mobilized. "It's hard, but we are waiting for our sons to come back, because that's the most important thing," Natalia says, sighing. The couple see their goal as protecting their great-grandchildren, to whom they have become parents. Six years ago, after the death of their grandson, Volodymyr and Nataliia took custody of his young children: nine-year-old Valera, eight-year-old Zhora, and seven-year-old Mykhailo. Natalia, who has worked in a kindergarten all her life, smiles bitterly now, "I guess it's my destiny to raise children in my old age. Now every day is like being at work." Because of the war, of course, they are worried about their fate, "We are still afraid to let them go out. Even though there are only two streets in the village, with not many residents, up to a thousand, we are still afraid for the children. There are no relatives closer to them. They were a gift to the old grandparents," the woman says.
The family lives on their pension and social benefits for their children. They live off their own 40-acre garden.
"Here we have onions, raspberries and strawberries. And even 32 grape varieties. We grow everything for ourselves and our children," Natalia smiles. She says it was a great help that their family was selected to participate in the Family to Family project. The couple used the money to buy a water pump and clothes for their children for the summer. "They are growing so fast and need things all the time. We also bought groceries. I want to pamper my children, but it's not always possible," Natalia adds.
Volodymyr says he has calculated that he and his wife have at least 10 more years to live to raise their children. "They are active, they love school, play with a ball, play with cats and dogs all the time. But they lack communication. In our village, there is only online teaching, and they want to go to a real school. They miss it," Natalia adds.
A woman picks up her great-grandson's drawings.
"Valera dreams of being an artist, he draws all the time," she says with a warm smile. "He also thinks about the profession of a cook, though. Mykhailo will go to school this year. Zhora is fond of taekwondo. He participates in different competitions and wins medals."
We say goodbye to the couple outside. Natalia looks at the gazebo and remembers, "We used to set a big table there. Every time it was like a big wedding. But the last time we gathered like this was in 2021. If we win, we'll all go out like we did it before, as a family!"
The Pryshchep family has been receiving monthly financial support as part of the Ukrainian-Polish project "Family to Family" since October last year. Caritas-Spes Ukraine implements this project in cooperation with and thanks to the support of Caritas Polska, aiming to support Ukrainian families in financial need and those affected by the consequences of the war in Ukraine.