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Ukraine crisis: One year on - Kateryna

Education Emergency Refugees Ukraine

Kateryna lives with her husband, children and sister in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Accommodation Centre in west-central Ukraine.

The centre used to be a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients and now houses IDP families.

The family used to live in Kharkiv Oblast, a region east of Ukraine, bordering Russia. Since February 2022, the region has been the site of heavy fighting, missile and artillery strikes resulting in widespread destruction.

Plan International is working with partners in Ukraine to support children and their families with cash and voucher assistance, heating appliances, child protection, education materials, and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS).

Kateryna’s story

“I have two sons, my youngest, Dmytro, will turn two on the 25th of February and my eldest son, Kostya is 11 years old.

On the morning of the 24th of February, we all were asleep. My brother called me and told me to grab my stuff and run to the metro for shelter, he said that the war had started. I first thought that he was joking because from where we live it would take at least two hours to reach the metro. I lived in Kharkiv city but a bit on the outskirts, so I would have to take a trolley bus to reach the subway.

I was in disbelief at first. I went out to the balcony and this is when I heard and saw the flying missiles and how the air defence system was exploding them in the sky. I immediately ran into the room to wake up my husband, children, and my sister who is disabled and we all ran down into the basement because that was the closest safe place we could reach, everyone around us was running to reach it too.

For about a week we were switching between the subway and the basement. We were very scared and did not know where to go, as we did not have any friends or family in other parts of Ukraine that we could go stay with.

One day, we saw a rocket land into one of the apartment blocks next to us. It destroyed the 4th and the 5th floors. We ran out on the road screaming in panic and by chance, there was a group of volunteers driving by. They saw all five of us with just a small bag that we’d only managed to fill with some children’s clothes and one single toy and kids’ backpack. They took us along with them into the unknown. They brought us to Vinnytsia city where we stayed overnight and the next day some other volunteers already brought us here.

“But my eldest son Kostya could see and feel everything.”

My younger son is still too young to fully understand what was going on, but he seemed confused at why we kept running down into the basement. But my eldest son Kostya could see and feel everything. He was very scared and would make sure he always stayed close to us. He did not sleep well and cried very often. He screamed every time there was an explosion.

When we arrived, it took him two months to collect himself because he arrived in deep shock and his mental health was affected. He lost motivation for school and study. He keeps telling me that he doesn’t need to study because there is war and he does not know if he will wake up tomorrow or not.

Here power cuts can stretch to up to 16 hours and he is unable to attend online lessons. Sometimes the power gets restored only by midnight and I wake him up to study for at least 2 hours until 2 am. It is difficult for him to study during the day because he can only access the classroom from the phone and the teachers cannot show him all the materials.

He loves sports and he was playing football in Kharkiv. Here he also found a way to play football with other children. He also would like to play a FIFA mobile game which our phone sadly is too weak to support as an app. I tell him to bear with us until we can get him a tablet so that he could practice more online. Unfortunately, I am not able to travel back to Kharkiv to take his tablet and laptop so that he could get distracted from this current situation we are in. He would like to be a goalkeeper and he is rooting for Manchester City and our local Kharkiv team – Metalist.

His coach from Kharkiv sent him a pair of goalkeeper gloves to try to lift his spirits up while he is away from home and he was very happy to receive those. He has made some friends here but it is not the same as what he had back at home. Kostya always wanted to become a big football player? but now he seems to have closed in on himself.

My husband is with me here, but my brother, who is 30, stayed back in Kharkiv because his fiancée refused to leave her parents there, so he is with her and helping them. Our parents are also there, and we keep in touch with them daily.

Kateryna and her youngest son
Kateryna and her youngest son

We are grateful for the support that is being provided to us by international organisations, whether it is food or clothes. Of course, monetary support is the most needed because my husband is the only one who works and his entire income is being spent either to buy food or to buy medicine for my sister who is disabled. We have left our entire life behind.

We used to have two apartments, one is already gone and we don’t know if the second one will still be intact when we eventually go back. This is why we are very grateful for everything we have here and we are even hesitant to ask for something else on top of what is being provided to us.”