Ukrainian family enjoys peace in Armenia but faces major challenges
YEREVAN, Armenia, June 25, 2015 (UNHCR) - When conflict erupted in Ukraine in November 2014, Artyem and Ella Nakhoyans prayed the fighting would end before it could disrupt their happy lives and home. Instead, war slowly crept closer to their home in Lugansk, eastern Ukraine.
Neighbours were cut down by stray bullets, shelling destroyed many houses, basic services - like water and electricity - were cut.
Equipment at the coal mine where Arytem, a 35-year-old Ukrainian national, worked was looted. Eventually, it collapsed and he lost his job with no compensation.
With their lives and those of their children - Mikayel (14), Elizaveta (10), David (4), and little Eva (1 ½ ).- increasingly at risk, they decided to flee to Artyem's ancestral home, Armenia - a land even he barely knew.
Artyem's father was Armenian, but his mother was Ukrainian.
Ella, a 34-year-old Ukrainian, who worked in a cosmetics salon, did not have any connection with Armenia other than her husband's blood ties. She bid farewell to her clients with a heavy heart, but was confident peace would bring its own rewards.
Life in the new land is indeed peaceful, but for refugees it is also difficult. Refugees in Armenia face several challenges. These range from finding suitable housing and jobs to facing cultural and language barriers. Without UNHCR's assistance, there would be little chance of medical care or other social services.
For now a small one-room apartment at Nor-Nork communal centre for refugees provided by the government in the capital Yerevan has to serve as a sitting-room, study and a bedroom.
"Eva is running around, Elizaveta is trying to do her homework while Mikayel is playing the guitar … Sometimes it's just impossible to find a peaceful corner to sit in and think about our uncertain future,'' Ella sighs sadly.
Despite the awkward living conditions and no immediate prospect of a well-paid job, the couple's hopes of a better future remain high.
"I am determined to overcome the difficulties. What is important is that we are all together and that we can sleep in peace," Artyem added.
Besides her knowledge of cosmetics, Ella can also cook and sew and manages to make some money by using these skills.
Her husband is helping her learn Armenian. Their children, whose conscientiousness was raised by fleeing war, are doing well at school and help their mother with housework and in the kitchen. They hope their mother's dream will come true and one day she will have her own salon.
Ella says she is inspired by the warm welcome of the host community and their readiness to help, be it the new neighbours, UNHCR or assisting NGOs, like Mission Armenia and KASA Swiss Humanitarian Foundation, but still longs to return home to Ukraine one day.
"I am sure the things will sort out, and we'll be able to go back home, to Lugansk,'' she smiles, tears in her eyes, as she looks out of the window, to the blue sky.
More than 160 people have sought asylum in Armenia and many more are arriving all the time. These women and children from Ukraine are brave and full of hope, but face major challenges. UNHCR and its partners are doing their best to make their stay in Armenia less painful.
By Anahit Hayrapetyan Yerevan, Armenia