It takes courage to defend your home, and it takes even more courage to know when you have to leave home to protect the ones you love. This is the difficult decision millions of Ukrainians have been forced to make since the war in Ukraine began—to flee the only home they’ve ever known in order to protect their families from the constant threat of fighting, shelling and missile attacks.
More than a year since the war in Ukraine began, one-third of the population has been forced to flee home — and more than 6 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs). Meet five Ukrainian IDPs who exhibit the bravery of all people who have ever been forced to flee home in search of safety.
Anzhela holds her four-year-old niece Liliya closely as they wait patiently in line for warm clothes and blankets from UNHCR’s partner, Humanitarian Mission Proliska. Anzhela and her family are now living in Sloviansk, a city in Eastern Ukraine, after their village was wrecked and their homes destroyed by intense fighting and air raids.
As an internally displaced person, Anzhela is dependent on assistance from organizations like UNHCR to ensure her family receives the care they need. Anzhela says that it is difficult for her family members to find a job these days, “My father gets occasional job opportunities, but no proper job so far. We are glad that we could get some cash support … We used the money to buy wood for the stove, so we can now cook and heat our house,” says Anzhela.
In her village, Anzhela’s family—comprised of seven people—lived comfortably in two houses. Now, her large family must adjust to living in one modest house. Despite this, Anzhela feels fortunate just to have her family by her side, “We were able to rent a house in Sloviansk … This is a very simple house with very basic amenities, but what is most important is that we are all safe and warm this winter.”
“It was an ordinary sunny and warm day [that] weekend. Together with [my] father, I was staying at home while my child was playing outside.”
In the blink of an eye, everything changed for Anastasiya. What should have been a beautiful day spent with her father and son soon became an unexpected nightmare as the war in Ukraine reached their home.
“At once we heard a dull thud and I suddenly found myself in the window frame. As I remember, all I thought at that moment was to see my son, and I ran headlong from the fifth floor to the ground to look for my son. And only then I realized that a rocket hit my house.”
That day, Anastasiya, her father and her son survived a missile attack in Dnipro that claimed dozens of lives and injured many more in their apartment building and neighborhood. Anastasiya and her family are now temporarily living in an apartment secured by volunteers and receive support from UNHCR’s partner Proliska.
Proliska is providing IDPs like Anastasiya with much-needed food, clothes and emergency items. They are also offering counseling, a service that Anastasiya and her family see as the next step in their healing and recovery process, “All we need now is psychological support … to get back to what was normal life and to understand how to move on and build the future. Because now we have kind of stopped and live only for tomorrow,” she adds.
“Our hopes are to come back to our apartment, rebuild the house, so that children again could loudly play in the yard and we could hear their laughs; that skies are blue and peaceful.”
Tamara has lived her entire life in Chasiv Yar—a city that holds her fondest memories of family and home, and the final resting place of her parents and grandparents. At 89 years old, Tamara thought she would spend the rest of her days in peace in the city that she loves.
But the picturesque life Tamara once knew ended when the war in Ukraine began. “Our life there was perfect. And then this war broke out. Since [then] it has become almost impossible to live. A shell broke through a wall in our house. We barely survived. It was a miracle.”
Having survived World War II and experienced starvation during wartime, Tamara is no stranger to the difficulties of war. The difference this time is that she can not remain in Chasiv Yar to wait out the war. The conditions at home became so unbearable that Tamara was forced to flee the only home she had ever known.
“We were afraid of going out,” she explains. Every day, Tamara heard rockets landing near her apartment and everything would shake. In the evenings, Tamara and her son Volodymyr would hear gunfire and bombing in the streets. Even then, she believed she could bear the difficult conditions if it meant she could remain home.
It wasn’t until the electricity and water were cut off that Tamara had to make the difficult decision to flee for the first time in her life. “It was unbearable. We sat in a room, always afraid and cold-shaken, in gloves. I started asking my son to do something. We tried to go to a basement, but it was overcrowded,” she shares.
Eventually, people living nearby helped Tamara and her son evacuate from Chasiv Yar to a collective center in Dnipro for internally displaced Ukrainians. After months of living under constant shelling, she was finally safe.
In a rush to leave, she left everything behind including her cherished belongings and personal documents. UNHCR’s partner, Proliska, is helping Tamara restore her documentation so she can access her pension.
“We came here with nothing. Even pensions were inaccessible, and the mail post was closed,” she says. “Here at least, it is warm when I sleep, while it is unbearable back home.”
Volodymyr feels lucky just to be alive. After falling from his second-story apartment during a missile attack, he was sure he would never walk or talk again. “Two bombs landed near my house. I was in my apartment, which is located on the second floor. Because of the explosion wave, I fell from the second floor and got injured. I broke my hip and had a stroke.”
After the devastating attack, Volodymyr left everything behind including all his clothes, personal belongings and identification documents. He arrived in Dnipro with just the clothes on his back. Now, Volodymyr is living in a collective center where he is recovering from his injuries and receiving support from UNHCR partner Proliska. At the collective center, he is learning how to walk again and now walks without any assistance.
Thanks to Proliska’s help, he was also able to receive new identification documents which are essential for him to be able to get assistance. “When I arrived in Dnipro, I didn’t have any documents. I was picked up without anything. I got clothes and food here. Thanks to Proliska, I was able to restore all my lost documents, including foreign passport. I am incredibly grateful for this.”
Zhanna embraces her great-granddaughter Milana closely, comforted by her presence but threatened by the fear that she could lose her family at any moment. At 84 years old, she could not have foreseen the loss she would experience throughout her life.
When she was only five years old, Zhanna lost her mother during an air raid in World War II. Later in life, she lost two of her children and would raise one of her grandchildren whose mother passed away when she was only 15 years old.
Now, Zhanna and her family’s lives are at risk again. She was forced to evacuate from her village amid heavy fighting and shelling. Her granddaughter Nadiia insisted that Zhanna flee the danger after her windows broke.
“Volunteers knocked on my door and said that I have 15 minutes to pack my belongings and leave. There were 20 people on the bus evacuated on the same day. We had to lie low as the bus was passing the dangerous areas where the fighting was ongoing, and the bullets were flying,” recalls Zhanna.
The village is currently occupied and Zhanna has not been able to contact her other family members. The only family she has now is her granddaughter Nadiia and Nadiia’s daughter Milana. While Nadiia looks for a place for them in Kyiv, Zhanna and Milana are staying at a collective center in Western Ukraine.
Although the collective center is just a temporary home for Zhanna and her small family, it has provided her with a sense of comfort and belonging. “I have received so much support from local people and from other IDPs. I feel that all the kindness expressed towards me somehow lifts my spirits and gives me health, and I become stronger.”
How to Help…
Millions of Ukrainians have been forced to flee from homes since the war in Ukraine began. The decision to leave home is a difficult but courageous one that’s made in order to protect their families. By becoming USA for UNHCR’s newest monthly donor, you can ensure that children and families in Ukraine are receiving the support and care they desperately need while fleeing.