Tatiana (also: Tanya) from Ukraine thought that happiness is to have your own house where your children were born, with a large garden planted with your own hands. Her family had just two years to live in this paradise. “As I suddenly found myself in a foreign country, I realized that home is people who gave you a helping hand in trouble”.
Tatiana remembered the day that changed her life — it was August 1 when she was about to start working in the kindergarten after maternity leave.
“I was going to work to get my employment book, and I saw people with children on their hands running towards me and getting into vehicles where “People” was written. Kirovske is a town of young people, we have many children there. Then suddenly the kindergarten and streets were empty, all the shops were sealed. I was shocked: where is everyone? Then it came to me that it was not safe to stay there,” Tatiana doesn’t like to recall the events of 2014 when hostilities started in Donetsk region in the east of Ukraine.
Her face brightens only when she remembers that her biggest dream was to have her own house. And finally, she and her husband were able to buy a house in Kirovsk.
“I had everything to be happy! We just furnished the house with furniture and household appliances. We’ve planted a garden: apples, plums, peaches, grapes, walnuts. We had fresh vegetables from my garden on the table,” Tatiana says. “I didn’t want to go anywhere else. I got attached to that place with all my heart and soul. This is where my kids were born”.
Twins Sofia and Anya were 2 years old at the time, and son Vladik was one year old. It’s for children that Tanya was scared most of all. She doesn’t want to think about what happened next.
“On August 6 there were already real fights; in local health center glasses were smashed off, there were raids on the mine where my husband worked. There were lots of provocations. Civilians were dying. It was difficult to figure out who was who in this war. And what was going on? In the center ATMs were robbed; they would break into an accounting department shouting: “Put phones and wallets on the table, everybody lie down!” They drove away all the equipment, including buses. Gasoline and bread disappeared. There was almost no one left in the town,” Tanya sighs. “Three terrible days later, our family had to make a choice: go down to the basement with the kids and wait for everything to be over or leave the zone of hostilities. It was the scariest and most difficult choice for me. But when you realize that the price is the life of your children, you get enough courage to run anywhere, without destination, only to be far away from this horror. I wish no one to go through this…”
Tanya stays silent for a long time. Then, nervous and thus a bit confused, she tells how they and the kids got out from the town to Donetsk, and from there — via Yasynuvata station — to Simferopol.
“In Simferopol buses went in columns, people didn’t have time to settle. Panic, hard road to the unknown, painful waiting — all this is traumatizing in its own way,” she says. “Someone was shouting, and those who got under fire cried. One woman was numb — couldn’t talk in shock. She ran to the shelter stepping on corpses — it’s not for the faint-hearted… ”
In the Crimea they settled into the once famous summer camp “Artek” where they stayed for three days. Tanya remembered how children were afraid of approaching windows out of habit, and another choice to make about where to go: to Russia or Belarus.
Tatiana’s grandmother once lived in Belarus, her mother was born in Mastoŭski district, and her aunt stayed in Hrodna. It was her who bought train tickets for Tatiana’s family and passed them via pilot guards.
“Before I saw cows only in the picture”
“We arrived in Belarus, registered with the migration service, and then were in shock again: what do we do next? We were lucky to be sent to the Red Cross where we got first aid. We went to the store for the necessaries, bought some food. After all, we arrived without taking anything but children’s stuff with us,” recalls Tanya. “Volunteers helped, the Red Cross staff have always been there, ready to support”.
Tanya’s family settled in Biełaviežskaja Pušča and got a job and apartment in an agro-town. At first, she worked at a collective farm as a driver at the livestock complex, though at home she never saw cows. In Ukraine she was a seamstress sewing state flags and banners for football fields, then she worked at a plant, in the kindergarten.
“I’ve never encountered many animals before, but that’s what happened. I even dared to have a pig that grew to be 400 kilograms of weight,” Tanya smiles.
Tanya says that she would like to thank everyone who gave them a helping hand in trouble — there were many people who did.
“I was touched by the warm welcome and kindness! When we arrived in my mum’s hometown, all locals who knew grandparents helped as much as they could”.
Then Tanya became a cook in a boarding school for elderly people with disabilities. She liked the place, the beautiful nature, the spacious bright cottage house. But it was time for girls to go to school. Anya had to go to Hrodna to a special boarding school for children with hearing impairment.
“Anya has a disability — sensory neural hearing loss. When the girls were born, Anya had to have blood transfusion immediately to save her, I spent all the money I received at the birth of the children,” Tanya says. “We missed her a lot, took her home from the boarding school for weekends, but my heart was aching as I knew that my little girl was alone, a hundred kilometers away from her family. We decided to move to Hrodna to be together”
“I hope we are going to have better days”
Tanya’s husband returned home, to the mine, in 2015 and went missing. She was left alone. Tanya says she doesn’t know how she would have survived without the support of the Red Cross. Whenever the situation becomes too unbearable, she receives a call from the staff who help to find a way out.
“My second home is not a place, but people!” Tanya says. “A foreign country has its own rules and laws, it is difficult to understand them, to start everything from scratch and to survive, especially when you raise three children by yourself. Thanks to the Red Cross, I know that my children will not be hungry — they even helped me to get a ticket to a summer camp when I didn’t have enough money for it”.
Tanya got her residence permit and planned to look for a place to stay in the suburbs, but UNHCR helped her to move to the city and find a job at Hrodna company BelTAPAZ. The employer provided them a room in the dormitory close to the school of Sofia, Anya’s boarding school and Vladik’s kindergarten.
Now Tanya is setting up her daily life mastering a new profession at the factory — controller of the technical control department.
“When I left Kirovske, I hoped that the war would end, and we would return home, but the situation was different. First of all, I think about Anya. When she turned 6, I did everything to buy her a hearing aid which is designed for two years. It cost 1300 rubles; I have to pay another 600 to repay the loan. Anya needs training in a specialized school, and until she finishes it, I don’t see any more sense in moving,” Tanya is sharing plans. “I hope we are going to have better days. Life is getting better. There is work, school and kindergarten — close to the house. Evening walks around the city on the bank of the Neman are waiting for us. I have been dreaming of visiting Hrodna Drama Theatre for a long time”.