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"The Bible says 365 times: "Do not be afraid". This is our spiritual support for every day"

The best melody in the world is the voices of your children, which fill your home, say Polina and Serhiy from Obukhiv, Kyiv region

Stefan and Stefania are the first to run out to meet us.  The twins are over a year and a half old, and of course, they feel like the "main ones" in the family. "Yes, this is the age when the whole world belongs to them," their mother Polina smiles. And she invites us inside. And it's like a beehive inside: everything is buzzing.  It's a weekend  and the whole family is at home. The sounds of music come from the living room.  There are seven children in the family. And all of them are creatively gifted: they play musical instruments, sing, dance. "Only the twins have not yet joined the 'family ensemble', but I'm sure they will soon," the kids' father jokes.

The family has been living in Obukhiv, Kyiv region, since March last year. At first they rented a house, but then the owners put it up for sale. Since then, they have been living in a house owned by the Sisters of St. Paul the Apostle from Chartres. "At the beginning of the war, the sisters went abroad and no one was living in the house, so they kindly allowed us to settle here," says Polina.

She is a foreign language translator by profession and is currently on maternity leave. Her husband, Serhii, is a programmer. Before the full-scale Russian invasion, the family lived in Brovary, Kyiv region. The war caught them there. Polina, a mother of five, was pregnant with twins at the time. "There were explosions, it was very scary," she recalls her state at dawn on February 24, 2022. "A family of IDPs from Donbas lived in the apartment next door. "Stop bombing!" shouted the man, who had known well since 2014 what these terrible sounds meant. "I will never forget that terrible state, those explosions and those screams..."

In search of a safer place, the family moved to Polina's parents in Zvenyhorodka, Cherkasy region. They lived there for some time. And when they decided to return to the Kyiv region liberated from the occupiers, they chose the town of Obukhiv. Serhii has a job here, and children go to school, attend clubs and music lessons. "The war has changed us all a lot. And children especially. I can see it in my friends and classmates of our sons and daughters. Children have grown up quickly, and at the same time, they have become more attentive and kind to others."

The eldest son, 14-year-old Semen, is an eighth-grader, fond of football and playing the piano. Maria, 12, and Marta, 10, have good voices and sing psalms in the church choir. Maria plays the cello, and Marta is learning to play the piano. Lev is seven years old and a future soccer star, and 5-year-old Maya also loves to sing and has a knack for drawing. The youngest Stefan and Stefania, as we mentioned earlier, are the conductors of the "creative family process".

While we are talking in the living room, the twins are falling asleep. Semen helps put the babies to bed. Lev and Maya can't share a teddy bear, so Maria has to calm them both down. There is no time for boredom.

A big family is an even bigger responsibility. "Did you think you would have such a big family?" I ask. "When we first met and started dating, Polina was working with children at a social center of a charity foundation," Serhii recalls. "Even then, talking about the future, we came to the conclusion that we wanted to have many children. But I never thought that we would have as many as seven... Children are a big responsibility. Constant worries. And at the same time - great happiness. And if it were not for the war, if we had a slightly better economic situation, we would surely take in children who were left without parents. Today, there are many people who need support... Perhaps we will be able to realize this plan after the war."

We are all postponing many of our dreams and desires for "after the war." Serhiy says he would like to go to Rome with his family to see the Eternal City: "We have never had enough time or money for this. It would be interesting to visit other countries, to see how people live there. But I would like to live only at home. I am sure that Ukraine is the best place on Earth."

Polina says her biggest dream is for the war to end. For people to stop dying and return to normal life. For children to have a childhood and not hide from enemy missiles in cold basements.

Children's dreams are a separate space for inspiration.

"I love to sing, I dream of creating my own musical group and touring the world," Maria smiles. Semen loves English and dreams of becoming a famous football player and playing in the English Premier League. And Marta says that when she grows up, she wants to be just like her dad. "What do you mean?" I clarify. "Just as kind and a programmer. I also want to be a saint. In the sense of helping other people."

They are a family of Catholics. They attend Mass every Sunday, and the children attend catechism lessons. "Yes, the war has affected us a lot," Polina says, "There is a constant fear for the children, a concern for the future. When there is an air raid at night, I can't sleep well, I'm waiting for the all-clear. On the other hand... A large family is a constant routine. Everyday worries and troubles are also an incentive not to give up. Missiles are flying. Our air defense system has worked. I thanked God and went to the kitchen. Tomorrow is my child's birthday, and I have to bake a cake. These are pleasant duties and traditions that no one will break. Not even enemies armed with missiles and drones."

Faith helps, supports and gives comfort. "When we are very afraid, we go to the chapel with our children and pray," the woman says. As the priest recently said during the Divine Liturgy, the Bible says 365 times 'do not be afraid'. This is our spiritual support for every day."

Participation in the Polish-Ukrainian project "Family to Family," of which Polina and Serhii's family were beneficiaries last year, helped to partially cover the cost of food, clothes and shoes for the children, and creative activities. "Life has become quite expensive. If you take a thousand hryvnias, you can't buy much for the number of people in our family. More or less high-quality children's shoes cost the same as shoes for adults. And it lasts for a season, because children grow," says Polina. "It also takes a lot of money to develop, treat, and rehabilitate children. We are extremely grateful to the Polish families who supported us. An open heart is also a good example for us to open our own hearts. The world today is such that people mostly want to be supported and given. And the example of Polish families shows how important it is to share with others, to help those in need. And then the good will multiply and go further into the world."

14 February 2024
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