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A year of war in Ukraine: Masha's story

Masha, 3, with her mother Natalya, 28. The family lives in a shelter in Ivano-Frankivsk. Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

Masha, 3, with her mother Natalya, 28. The family lives in a shelter in Ivano-Frankivsk. Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

At the start of the war in Ukraine, three-year old Masha had to leave her two beloved cats behind when her family was forced to flee their home.

Last February, the fighting pushed Masha, her parents, and her older sister out of Eastern Ukraine. They became a small portion of what would become the nearly 6.5 million people internally displaced since the start of the war.

The family began a four-day journey from Sjewjerodonezk, their hometown in the Donbas region, to the train station in Lviv, where they hoped they’d be able to travel to safety somewhere in Ukraine further from the fighting.

Ukrainian refugees arriving by trains to Przemyśl station in Poland. Photo: Valerio Muscella.

This December, a CARE Ukraine team traveled from western Ukraine to meet with its partners in the hard-to-reach areas of the south and east, near Masha’s hometown.

Along the way, they saw some of the damage the war has caused since Masha’s family left — destroyed cities, damaged infrastructure, and abandoned homes.

A residential building in Sloviansk, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. Photo: CARE Ukraine.

At the end of February last year, Masha’s family was among the 40,000 to 100,000 people who arrived in the western city of Lviv with the hopes of finding shelter. They could only take one suitcase of clothes when they fled, and they had to spend the night in the train station to stay warm.

Today, nearly a year later, there a few hundred people a day who still arrive at the station, fleeing the continued fighting.

The Lviv train station in December, 2022. Photo: Sarah Easter.

But this year, many of the displaced families won’t be able to take the same comfort Masha’s family did. The war’s ongoing destruction of energy infrastructure has caused prolonged power outages throughout Ukraine, including at the Lviv station.

While many of the families stay in Ukraine, many also make their way to places like Poland, where aid workers help them get temporarily settled.

“Refugees who come to us often don’t have basic things with them,” says Olga Leskiw, an international aid coordinator in Poland.

“They pack in panic. They put their things in plastic bags. Children only take one toy.”

A school gym serves as temporary housing for refugees in Hrebrenne on the Polish border. Photo: Laura Noel/CARE

Masha and her family managed to make it to a shelter in Ivano-Frankivsk, two hours south of Lviv. CARE and its partners worked throughout the start of the war to renovate the shelter and to supply it with new furniture — mattresses, kitchen appliances, tables, chairs, and storage — and even to build a playground out front.

Masha plays on the newly built playground in a shelter in Ivano-Frankivsk. Photo: Sarah Easter.

Masha now stays in a small room, only 20 square feet, which is just enough to accommodate her, her sister, her parents, and — after volunteers traveled the nearly 800 miles back to Eastern Ukraine — the family’s two rescued cats.

Masha with one of her two cats. Photo: Sarah Easter.

Over the past year, CARE and its partners have reached more than 960,000 people like Masha and her family. The work has spanned Ukraine, Georgia, Germany, Moldova, Poland, Romania, & Slovakia. CARE and its partners have provided protection, psychosocial support, cash assistance, food, water, sanitation and hygiene assistance, health services, support for accommodation, and education.

Due to electricity supply issues in Ukraine, the registration process takes place in extremely difficult conditions, without electricity, mobile communications, and internet access. Photo: CARE/CFSSS.

The response of CARE and its partners to the humanitarian crisis will be more important than ever in 2023. Already, as winter’s onset deepens the level of need, attacks and damage to homes and infrastructure have left millions at risk of deadly temperatures that can drop below -4°F.

For more information on how you can help, please visit CARE’s Ukraine Crisis Response page here.

For more on Masha’s story, read the Passauer Neue Presse story here.

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