Uprooted. Stories of Ukrainians deprived of their homes

Published: Jun 25, 2024 Reading time: 6 minutes
Uprooted. Stories of Ukrainians deprived of their homes
© Photo: People in Need

Russia's war in Ukraine has forced more than 12 million people from their homes. This is almost one-third of the country's population. Some have found refuge abroad, while others have stayed in Ukraine and are trying to rebuild their lives in safer towns and villages. We support such families by helping them to rent housing in a new place. Over the past six months, we have helped 609 families who have fled the fighting and come to communities in Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Lviv Oblasts. The stories of these people are full of pain and a great desire to live.

Kherson-Mykolaiv-Vinnytsia. The road to silence

Until 2022, Oksana and her large family lived in a small village near Chornobaivka, a village whose name was constantly in the news during the first summer of the full-scale invasion. The relentless shelling of the Kherson Oblast did not stop; part of the region was occupied, and it became suicidal to stay.

"When the Kakhovka dam was destroyed, our basements, sheds and garden flooded. I still stayed at home because I had a job and was taking care of my elderly father. One day, my workplace was shelled heavily. I had to hide in a trailer for twenty-four hours. After that shift, I said that I didn't want any salary, I just wanted to live," recalls 52-year-old Oksana.

The family came together and decided to flee. Two cars, four generations: Oksana, her adult children, grandchildren, and other relatives. They spent a day trying to pass dozens of Russian army checkpoints. The family considers their escape to be a real stroke of luck, as they later learned that part of the convoy leaving the occupation on the same day had been fired upon.

"On the way, we had to pass through one village. There was no army there. Everything was smashed; shells were sticking out of everywhere. And in the middle of it all, we saw a couple of older people. They were working in the garden, planting something. We drove on. At the first checkpoint, when we saw the Ukrainian military, I burst into tears. Because I realised that they were not strangers anymore and that nothing would happen," recalls Hanna, Oksana's daughter-in-law.

Distant relatives helped the large family to settle in Vinnytsia Oblast: they found an abandoned house in the village. The old house could barely accommodate almost ten adults. The house had basic amenities—a well in the yard and stove heating. But Oksana's family did not complain about the conditions. They had to think about moving in the autumn of 2023, when Hanna gave birth to her daughter Maria.

Hanna applied for participation in the project to reimburse rental costs as a vulnerable family. She received a favourable response from our organisation. The family were looking for an apartment for more than two weeks. 

"When we arrived from Kherson, we were shocked by the prices. At home, we could rent a three-bedroom apartment with a fairly good repair for 5,000 to 6,000 UAH ($125-155). But here, when we started looking, we mostly received offers for 7,000 to 8,000 UAH ($170-200) for one-bedroom apartments only," says Oksana.

Eventually, Oksana and her husband, their daughter, daughter-in-law Hanna and their children moved into a three-room apartment in Vinnytsia. The family will be reimbursed for six months. During this period, the adults have the opportunity to find work. Hanna has already found a temporary job, and Oksana is applying for every vacancy offered by the employment centre.   

Kharkiv-Vinnytsia. A move that changed everything

The Khyzhniak family arrived in Vinnytsia in June 2022. They have not been back to their native Kharkiv for almost two years. During the first months to Vinnytsia, they lived in a collective centre. The cramped dormitory rooms, shared kitchen and bathroom replaced the usual comfort of their home. However, in Vinnytsia, Svitlana, Andrii, and Alina found the most important thing—safety. Air raids and shelling are less frequent here, and the distance from the border with Russia is greater.

Despite the difficulties, the family has adapted to their new place. Andrii, a teacher of higher mathematics, found a job in his field of study, and Alina continued her studies at school. The couple even decided to take a bold step - the birth of their second child. Polina will soon be one year old.

The Khyzhniak family also took part in our Ukraine Humanitarian Fund-funded project. The reimbursement of rent expenses allowed Svitlana and Andrii to improve the living conditions of their children significantly. Svitlana's eldest daughter has a place for online learning, and the baby has a personal space for development. 

"This apartment has become a lifeline for us. It's a nice neighbourhood and much better conditions than in the collective centre. What we can save on rent allows us to invest in our eldest daughter's education. This year, she will be entering college and saving money is important for our family," says Svitlana.
Makiivka-Vuhledar-Vinnytsia. The story of Iryna and her three children

Until 2014, Iryna lived in Makiivka, a satellite town of Donetsk. Her life was well-established and calm. Her family had their own home and the two children had a wonderful childhood.

"I remember our walks with friends. We had great company and had a lot of fun," says 17-year-old Karyna.

In the summer of 2014, the residents of Makiivka felt the breath of war as the occupation of Donetsk Oblast began. Because of the shelling, the family moved to Vuhledar. At the time, Iryna believed that it was a temporary visit from her parents. But time passed, and the situation remained dangerous. Later, the couple found out that one of their houses had been destroyed. So, they settled in Vuhledar. Iryna became a mother for the third time. Zoryana was born.

But in March 2022, the family had to leave their home again. This time, they fled with Iryna's 72-year-old father and 63-year-old mother.

"For two weeks, we hid from shelling in the basement of a sports school. It was minus 10 degrees outside, and more than 100 people gathered in the shelter. We could only find light, communication, or gas by risking our lives. We were just lucky to get out of this nightmare," Iryna recalls.

Leaving Vuhledar because of the constant shelling was extremely risky, and the journey to safety was exhausting. The family sought asylum like thousands of other people. They travelled through more than a dozen Ukrainian and European towns to finally find the best shelter in the Vinnytsia Oblast.

The family liked Vinnytsia at first sight. Iryna found a job, and the children continued their studies. Even their pets have found a place in the rented three-room apartment: the kids take care of the fish and a fluffy rabbit. And the family's only dream is peace. 

"Our Zoryana is only four-and-a-half years old, but she has already seen and heard so much that she starts to worry even if someone nearby reads the news about another shelling. I want it to stop and for my little sister's childhood to be safe and fun," says Karina.

Autor: People in Need

Related articles