Kateryna* clings to her children. Able to flee to Poland with them, it is they who give her hope. The rest of her family – her husband and parents – have stayed behind in Ukraine: her mother in Kherson, her father in Pogopraj and her husband in Kyiv. “The hardest thing is that we’re not together,” she tells us, visibly upset.
She and her children also lived in Kherson with her husband. “I live in a block of flats and the view is of the village of Chornobaivka.” Although at the moment she is at the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) facilities in Gdynia in Poland, she speaks in the present tense. JRS, which operates in Ukraine, Poland and other bordering countries, offers refuge and companionship to refugees and people who have been displaced by the conflict.
Kherson, in southern Ukraine, is home to one of the most important ports in the country; a strategic place that was occupied three weeks after the start of the war. According to the Ukrainian authorities, over half of the population has left the region as of now.
Kateryna and her children, now safely in Poland (Sergi Camara).
It was complicated for Kateryna, her children and her husband to flee, and you can hear the fear in her words. “Some good friends took us in, and their house had a basement and a garage. We hid there for almost a week. There was fighting going on at that time on the other side of Oleshky’s bridge,” she says.
The town was surrounded; they tried to get out through various places but were unable to. Eventually, they managed to leave and all four left their town behind. She said goodbye to her husband – who went to Kyiv – and she and the children continued to flee to safety, away from Ukraine.
“The children slept on the floor and had no food. It’s a fear that’s very difficult to convey, it’s impossible to put into words.” Now, in Poland, what she most appreciates about the welcome JRS have provided is that they have a roof over their heads, food to eat and a place where they can wash. Her children are safe and feel cared for. However, she worries more and more about those who stayed behind in Ukraine: her husband, with whom she is in touch every day, and who she fears may have to fight; and her parents, who don’t have access to medication and are facing rising food prices. “Food costs three or four times what it did,” she states.
This is on top of the worry about her children’s future, in particular when it comes to their studies. Neither her daughter, who is in her first year at university, nor her son, who is at secondary school, are able to continue studying. “For my daughter, it’s very important because she already has a plan for the future and has decided what she wants to do with her life,” she says sadly.
It’s hard to stay hopeful in these circumstances, but Kateryna refuses to give up. “There’s always hope. We’re hopeful that Kherson will continue being part of Ukraine and that we’ll be reunited with our families as soon as possible.”
*Fictitious name to protect her identity.
Originally published by Entreculturas.