Waking Up to a Nightmare
On the morning of the 24th of February 2022, Yulia and her family awoke just like any other day. But when Yulia checked her phone, she saw numerous missed calls and messages from friends and family, and realized that something terrible had happened – their city was being attacked.
“We hadn’t heard any explosions yet; my wife rushed in and said, “Your cousin is calling, and she says there’s a war. Why are you still sleeping?’ I replied laughing, asking, ‘What war?’ We couldn’t believe it. It took us some time to realize that we needed to leave the city because we lived in the city center, and the gravity of the situation hadn’t dawned on us yet,” said Serhii.
Surviving the terrible times
As they sheltered in their basement, days turned into weeks – and they were running out of food and water. From time to time, Yulia’s husband ventured upstairs to check what was happening.
“After a while, as the shelling of our part of the city began, the power went out. There was no electricity, everything was cut off. We couldn’t even read the news to chek what was happening or what we should do. We could only gather information by looking out of our apartment window, witnessing houses on fire and terrible events unfolding. We held onto the hope that all this horror would end quickly, and we could go back to our lives,” said Serhii.
“One night, something terrifying happened. While we were asleep, a piece of an air bomb fell just outside our window. Fortunately, it didn’t explode, but if it had, we wouldn’t have survived. A similar bomb had hit a building not far from our home the day before, causing it to collapse and killing everyone who had taken shelter in the basement,” said Yulia.
At that moment, they felt scared – and trapped. They tried to leave the city with others, but the bombings made it impossible.
“On that day, I took my bicycle to explore the city and gather more information. What I saw was horrifying – buildings were completely burned down. I returned home with tears in my eyes, realizing that I needed to gather my family and leave the city, as no one would spare us here. We began to make plans to leave. We gathered into groups, and made plans to leave, but were finally told that it was too dangerous. So, for more than ten days, our family lived in a basement, waiting for news about our evaluation,” said Serhii.
A glimmer of hope
In March, Yulia heard a rumour that they might be able to leave the city. When she got back home, they decided it was time to leave. “Eventually, we contacted someone to inquire about leaving the city. He told us it was possible but dangerous due to landmines. The next day, my husband checked our garage, and we were lucky that our car was intact and had fuel, as many people had abandoned their cars due to a lack of gasoline and stolen batteries,” said Yulia.
She added: “My husband said, ‘Should we leave now and try to escape, or should we stay in the city and face the possibility of death?’ Meanwhile, our food and water supplies were running low, and our children were sick, but we didn’t have any medecine”.
The next day, they left the city. On the 14th of March, they arrived in a small village in the Vinnytsia oblast. Life there was not great, but at least they were safe.
A new beginning
Living in the village was very different from their old life, but they got used to it. They had to live in one room as a family and were longing for a place of their own. “On the 14th of March 2022, we left the city and headed to find shelter in peaceful Ukrainian cities in the Central Ukraine. The final stop was in a village in Vinnytsia Oblast. Conditions there weren’t ideal for us. Later, our friend recommended that we move to a kindergarten where it was quiet, peaceful, warm, and, most importantly, safe. We spent a year there. My husband found a job as an electrician, but it was still a rural area, and we couldn’t provide our children with the kind of development they needed. Living together in one room was also challenging,” said Yulia.
She continued: “One day, while I was working at the kindergarten, some people from a humanitarian organization arrived. A friendly young woman approached me and asked some questions about our living situation. She mentioned Medair, and that they provide housing assistance for people in need. Coincidentally, my husband and I had been considering where to move and how to rent our own place, but we hadn’t rushed in because it required a significant amount of money. Later, a Medair representative called us and said they could help us with cash-for-rent. We were overjoyed and grateful for that call. It was like a glimmer of hope in our lives,” said Yulia.
Dreams and the unknown
In their new home, they found comfort and strength. Their journey wasn’t over yet, but they didn’t lose hope. They believed that one day, the terrible times would end, and their kids could start over.
“When we moved into a three-bedroom apartment, we were extremely happy. Finally, our children and us had our own space. Our children could attend activities, school, workshops, and go on excursions. The conditions here at least somewhat closer to our previous life. Like everyone else, we dream of the day when all this horror will end, and we can gradually rebuild our children’s lives.” said Yulia.
In one of the three rooms, Yulia has set up a room for clients and works there as a manicurist. Medair continues to work with Yulia, providing her with opportunities for her and her family’s development.
While Yulia and her family endured really challenging times, they are a reminder of how resilient people can be when life gets hard – and of how organizations like Medair can positively impact people’s lives.
Medair services in Vinnytsia city, Ukraine, are funded by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
All photos ©Medair / Diana Mukan
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed here are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organization.