'I Just Want To Go Home': The Young Ukrainian Women Forced To Leave Everything Behind
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Featured Image Credit: George Calin/Plan International
For millions of Ukrainians, life as they know it changed irrevocably — almost overnight — when Russian president Vladimir Putin invaded their homeland just over two weeks ago.
Missile attacks and air strikes have been reported in cities across the eastern European country since the invasion began on 24th February, with catastrophic destruction in the capital Kyiv and residents forced to leave their homes and jobs to find safety.
The UN Refugee Agency reports more than 2.5 million Ukrainians have escaped the country so far, with many seeking refuge in neighbouring countries such as Romania, Moldova, Poland and Hungary.
Most of the refugees arriving in border countries are women and children, with men being asked to stay behind in Ukraine and fight. So how are they coping in these terrifying times?
Tyla hears from three women about their journeys so far, with the help of the charity Plan International, which is currently responding to help refugees in Poland, Romania and Moldova.
“I just want to go back to my previous life”
Julia, 33, brand and product manager from Kyiv
Now, she has had to seek refuge in Romania by travelling for 20 hours to cross the border. Julia could only bring her key belongings in a black bum bag across her body
She walked alongside another woman and her children whom she met along the way, but the tragedy in her home country has given her a new companion.
“The group we were travelling with left without us, and we stayed, and I helped her with her luggage because she is alone with kids. I understand it is hard for her.”
Both women plan to go to Bulgaria, but to different cities. “She goes to one and I go not far from there.”
Just like Julia, most of her friends have left. She said: “some are in Ukraine, but a lot of them went abroad especially those with kids. Almost everyone who had kids went somewhere. Some went to Poland, Germany and Netherlands.”
Julia wishes they can be reunited in Kyiv one day but for now they are keeping in contact via WhatsApp.
She didn’t expect to be here, and she certainly doesn’t want to be, “I just want to be at home in my city with my family.”
And Julia's parents have stayed behind. “Yes, my father and mother. My father can’t go abroad because he is not 60 and my mum doesn’t want to leave him. So, they have stayed together and send me photos. We always keep in touch, but I am very afraid.”
"I want to go back home again"
Katy, 16, student from Chernivtsi, southwestern Ukraine
Aspiring artist Katy and her mum arrived at the busy train station in Bucharest, Romania where they have stayed in an empty house someone found for them. It’s the first time she’s left her home country and she doesn’t know if or when she’ll return.
"We’ve travelled for seven hours on the train to get here," says Katy. "The train was busy, we had seats but many people didn’t. People were standing the whole time but at least they are safe,” she explains.
“The help has been good – when we got off the train there were instantly people wanting to help, support organisations ready to help people.”
Katy only has a few bags in tow including a suitcase, a soft bag and some tote bags with two pairs of jeans and some tops. Her mum queues in a long line to purchase train tickets to Budapest, Hungary. “We don’t know anybody there. We hoped to go to America but the ticket was too expensive," Katy adds.
“There were sirens in the city and the surrounding areas and my mama thought it was best to leave. Places around the city are being attacked. Mama was afraid that the bombs would come so we decided to leave.”
Katy says she is worried about her friends and boyfriend who are still in Ukraine and does not know when she will see them again. “My best friend has stayed in our town because she has a brother and a father and they’re not allowed to leave, so they decided to all stay together. My boyfriend has also stayed at home. He and his father fix army vehicles.”
When asked how she feels about the war in her country she says: “It’s a bit scary, but I believe everything will be okay. I want to go back home again. I’m in class 11, but my school has been closed since the war started."
"What do you do about children?”
Yana, 33, IT worker from Dnipro in central Ukraine
“When we left there was nothing going on fortunately, otherwise the panic would have been so great,” she says about the state of her city when she escaped.
“I have a car but I decided to leave it there, I didn’t want to go by car because it’s a really long way. Ukraine is not small. From the town where we are to the Western borders, it could take days to drive, so we decided to leave it all there.”
Yana uses a social media platform called Telegram to get updates and alerts about the attacks however fake news is published by users of the app. “We hear a lot of crazy things, I don’t know if it’s true or if it’s fake.”
Yana’s documents were checked at the border and her dog received a passport however there were no covid checks. “Covid doesn’t exists anymore here! So it was really easy. When you know what you are doing it is easy”.
She notes that people who are on similar journeys to safety are offering help to those in need, particularly people with disabilities, the elderly and children,
“People from Ukraine are helping each other, people here are very friendly, they tell you where to go and ask if you need anything. I think people have [asked] me if I am hungry three times today.
"There’s a lot of people right now trying to board the train, it’s difficult to think about that. And children, how do they manage with these little children? I don’t know. I have one dog and she’s annoying! What do you do about children?”
There has been a huge outpouring of support through donations from countries across the world, and Yana is grateful for everyone who has helped so far. “I just want to say thank you to everyone who is trying to support us somehow. Thank you for trying to help.”