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"Ukraine has a happy future ahead of it. The bravest people in the world live here. We will definitely win!"

"Ukraine has a happy future ahead of it. The bravest people in the world live here. We will definitely win!"

...Natalia was carrying freshly baked bread through the streets of Bobrovytsia to give to those in need when a friend called. "Where are you now? Hide quickly, Russian tanks are driving through the city. Somewhere there, not far from you!" No, there was no fear. There was no despair either. There was determination and a single desire: to go out to meet the enemies and say: "Enough! Come back home. I have already seen it. You bring only grief and death. Get out!"

A family from the Luhansk region, who were forced to leave their home ten years ago because of the war, found refuge in a town in Chernihiv region. "We are now Bobrovytsia residents," Natalia and Timur say. We are not going anywhere else from here."


"When we saw the Ukrainian flag, we got out of the car and cried with happiness..."

"It was very loud... A column of enemy vehicles was moving down the street, past our house. The tanks were shooting randomly, on the principle of wherever they hit. Rockets and shells were flying. Explosions were heard in the city all the time. And then one day, in a moment of short silence, my son came to the window and said: "Don't worry, mom. There are only three days left." How did he know this, how did he predict it? And three days later, on March 31, the occupiers left Chernihiv region. But what a disaster they caused here... How much grief they brought to people... The joy of the news of liberation was so strong that my husband and I cried. Marat asked me: "Mom, why are you crying? Is the war over?" "No, son, the war is not over yet, but the tanks have left the city..."

Recalling the horrific events of February and March 2022, Natalia cannot hold back her tears. She has lived in the town of Bobrovytsia with her husband and 11-year-old son since April 2014. Since the war broke into her measured, happy life, ruthlessly and irrevocably dividing it in two: "before" and "after".

...Natalia is a professional journalist. She has worked on television and as a press officer at a prosecutor's office. Before the events of 2014, she was a successful editor of a city newspaper in the city of Krasnyi Luch in Luhansk Oblast. In 2013, she became a mother for the second time. Her husband is a lawyer and worked in the local prosecutor's office. "It seemed like we had everything for happiness: a favorite job, business, housing, car. We renovated the house. The older children were studying at institutes. Our great joy was our little son, whom my husband and I had been waiting for... Live and be happy. We had plans for the future," the woman says. "But in the spring of 2014, we could already feel the war coming. At the end of March, my husband said: "Natalia, I smell war... There will be a big trouble. Save the editorial office." Timur is a combat veteran of Afghanistan, he served as a medic. While taking a wounded man from the battlefield, he himself hit a mine. He suffered serious shrapnel wounds to his legs. His severe health problems are the result of those events."

On the advice of her husband, Natalia moved her equipment, machinery, and newspaper archive out of the city. She managed to pay salaries to her employees, pay the company's utility bills and taxes. She had nowhere to pick up the last issue of the newspaper from the printing house: she came to work in the morning and saw the tricolor: the Russian military had seized the editorial office and set up headquarters. The latest issue of the weekly was handed out to passersby on the streets. Among other things, it advised readers on how to behave and save themselves in the midst of hostilities.

Staying in the city had become dangerous. Timur and Natalia realized this. They had less than a day to pack. They took only the most necessary things: documents and baby food. With a small child and a sick 90-year-old mother, the men traveled for 36 grueling hours. Without a break, through constant dangers (fields and forest belts were already mined), through 19 checkpoints and humiliating inspections and interrogations. When we reached Kharkiv region and saw the Ukrainian flag, we got out of the car and cried with happiness.

"And the grandmothers said, 'I don't want you to ever know what hunger is, son...'"

The trip to Bobrovytsia in Chernihiv region was not a coincidence. The man's old friends, former Afghan soldiers who live in this town, helped him rent a house and supported him with the most necessary things, food, and medicine. "Of course, we were only going for a day or two, thinking that it would be over soon and we would return home," Natalia sighs, "We hoped that our town in Luhansk Oblast would be liberated from the occupiers. In Bobrovytsia, there were problems with work. My husband was offered a job as a tractor driver. But he had no relevant experience and no driver's license. In fact, it was difficult to get a job as a security guard. "People treated IDPs differently back then... Many people looked at them with distrust: how could you leave your home and come to a strange city with nothing? But when it comes to the life and health of your child, you don't hesitate, you leave everything behind to save him or her."

...The three-room apartment where we are talking is the first place the family has finally been able to settle permanently. Before that, they had been living in rented apartments for eight years. Each move was stressful, a new uncertainty. It was only shortly before the full-scale Russian invasion that they received a communal apartment under the state program to support internally displaced persons and people with disabilities. For a long time, they made repairs on their own: the house was built in the 1970s, and they had to renovate and remodel everything in the apartment, from the walls to the windows and doors. Their eldest daughter, friends, and neighbors helped with furniture and things. "On the evening of February 23, 2022, we hung a chandelier in the living room. We couldn't get overjoyed that we finally had our own cozy corner. And at dawn, my daughter called from Boryspil: "Mom, it's war. Rockets are flying over us. There are explosions in the city." I could not believe it. It was like a bad dream. In a few days, Bobrovytsia was occupied by enemy troops."

But it was the full-scale war, sad to say, that changed the attitude of the locals. "They finally understood us," my interlocutor smiles bitterly. "They came to me for advice: what to do? I told them to stock up on food, water, and charge their power banks. And not to panic. She advised how to behave in case of shelling. The war has brought us closer together."

They did not tell my son what was happening for a long time. We did not want to traumatize the child's psyche. When it was very loud from the explosions, we put on his headphones and turned on music. They hid from the bombing in the basement. "Then my child suddenly said the phrase: 'Mom, what is hunger? When the grandmothers in the basement heard that, they started crying: "Maratik, you will never know what hunger is!" And they started bringing us a bucket of carrots, potatoes, cereals, pasta. I said, "Thank you, but no thanks, we've stocked up. And they answered me: God forbid that your child should know what hunger is..."

But the worst thing at that time, Natalia says, was to be left without medication. Some medications Marat has to take all the time. And they were not available...

"The happiest day of my life was when our son started talking"

During the siege, there was no internet in the city and almost no communication. When the electricity came back on, Natalia, along with other women, baked bread and distributed it to people in need - lonely, poor, and elderly. One day, she was carrying the still-warm loaves to the city center when a friend called: "Where are you now? Quickly hide. Russian tanks are in the neighboring street!" When I heard this, I wanted to go to meet them. To stop them, to say to the enemy in their faces: "That's enough. I saw you ten years ago. You bring misery and death. Go back home! Get out!"

She could not believe that the war had caught up with her again...

But she was most worried about her son. Because of the stress and fright he experienced in the first year of his life, Marat stopped eating and learned to walk. The boy grew up and did not speak until he was 5 years old. Endless trips to the doctors. Dozens of offices of different specialists - the parents lost count... For a long time they could not determine the diagnosis. And when, after long complicated diagnostics, checks and consultations, Natalia heard the verdict of the doctors, the ground shook under her feet. Autism spectrum disorders - due to the stress experienced during the fighting. This day was the hardest in her life, she admits.

But her parents did not give up. They tried different methods of therapy. The treatment slowly gave results. The doctors assured them that if they kept up this pace until the age of 12 and kept their son's health in a stable course, they might be able to get out of the disease. But it's not that simple. "Kickbacks" in treatment can sometimes be disconcerting. And they happen most often against the backdrop of acute experiences related to the war. When the air raid warning sounds, my son starts screaming loudly... And it takes effort and patience to calm him down and stabilize his condition.

The bulk of the family budget is spent on diagnosing and treating the child. The treatment is expensive - there is a constant lack of money. In addition to medications, Marat has to follow a gluten-free diet, which means additional daily expenses.

But when her son began to speak... and immediately in phrases, meaningful sentences, it was the happiest day of her life, Natalia admits. "I videotaped it, sent it to my family and friends: 'Look, our Marat has started talking, he's talking! And my son told me: "Mom, I've always been able to talk. I was just silent because it was not yet time." We do not need cars, houses, or wealth. Our happiness is the good results of our son's treatment," the woman is convinced.

"When I heard that we were accepted into the Family to Family project, it seemed as if angels had come to us…"

Marat is a bright boy. He draws, plays the piano and guitar. He likes to shoot videos and make short "clips". He studies at school according to an individual program and attends an inclusive educational center for special children that has recently opened in their town. But socialization has not always been easy. Neighborhood children, not understanding the boy's "strange behavior," often made fun of him. Until Natalia gathered the boys and girls in the yard and told them why her son was different. And what the expression "special child" means. After that, Natalia says, Marat made a lot of friends. They not only come to play with him, but also defend him when someone dares to hurt the boy.

In the future, when he grows up, Marat dreams of working at a meteorological station. He is learning English. He knows the countries, their capitals and national flags. He says that after winning, he and his mom and dad would like to go on a trip to Europe. And the first country he will visit is Poland.

"When I told my son that we had been accepted into the Family to Family project, that ordinary Polish families help Ukrainian families like ours, and that thanks to them we now have the means to take him to a planned rehabilitation, Marat asked how he would say it in Polish: "thank you"? And he wrote this word down in his notebook so he wouldn't forget it," says his mother.

Natalia says that she has never turned to any charity for help before. She was used to solving her own problems on her own. Kind people advised her to apply for the Family to Family project because they knew how much trouble they were in. "It was a difficult period," she recalls, "My son's rehabilitation is coming up, and I realize that I have no way to get the money. Her salary is low: she works as a social educator and leads a group of young journalists. But she has to devote most of her time to her son. Her husband works part-time and keeps trying to find a well-paid permanent job. But it's hard for the family to make ends meet. "It was like a miracle for us to be accepted into the project," says the woman, "I still can't believe this is happening to us. When we received the first payment, Marat had just undergone an important surgery. And these funds became a lifesaver for us - we used them for rehabilitation. Now, thanks to your support, we will be able to take our son to Truskavets for a course of rehabilitation therapy. We have already bought train tickets and are leaving in a few weeks. Yes, these funds are really vital for us. But I will say more. The fact that they did not refuse us, listened to us, and felt sorry for our situation... This is real mercy, this helping hand given in a timely manner when you are in a very difficult situation - it means a lot. It seems to me as if the angels in the person of Caritas-Spes came to us and stood by our side..."

...It was raining that day in Bobrovytsia, and it didn't stop for a moment. Outside the window, the sky was gray and low, and in the room, it was dusk. But when Marat and his mother came out to see us off, it cleared up. Natalia's daffodils and tulips in the flower garden near the house were gradually fading. Instead, new flower buds appeared. On the cherries and apricots - the ovaries of future fruits. Spring is early this year. It's encouraging. Though it does not bring warmth every day.

"What is your biggest dream?" I ask Marat, who is confidently walking among the puddles. "I want the war to end... I know that Ukraine will definitely win and be happy. Because the bravest people in the world live here!"

As a farewell, Marat gives us a postcard he drew before we arrived. "This is for Polish families. Thank you." "Dziękuję!" he repeats in Polish without looking at his notebook. And he smiles.


We thank our partners Caritas Poland for their support and active cooperation in implementing the Family to Family project. Since October 2022, this project has been helping Ukrainian families in difficult life situations affected by the consequences of the war.

6 May 2024
Система Orphus
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