icon icon icon icon icon icon icon

A year of war in Ukraine: “My name is Natalia, and I’m from Kharkiv”

Natalia and her family fled Ukraine in early 2022. Photo: Daria Khrystenko/CARE

Natalia and her family fled Ukraine in early 2022. Photo: Daria Khrystenko/CARE

On February 24, at 5 a.m., we heard the explosions.

At 5:11, my sister called me. She saw an explosion from her balcony, and she asked me what to do.

My husband and I bought our house in October, and we had a very good basement, so I told her to take her son and come to my house.

Eventually, there were eight people in the house – me, my husband, my mother-in-law, my sister with her son, my daughter, and my son. There was also one more girl with us. She and my daughter were supposed to go to a track-and-field tournament that Thursday, so this girl stayed with us.

For the next five days, we all slept in the basement.

There were a lot of explosions, and we didn’t know where the missiles might hit. We were very afraid to leave. We had canned food, so we’d go up and quickly cook something, then come back down.

On the fifth day, we decided to go out to buy some bread.

We didn’t find bread, but we bought some grains, sugar, salt, all the necessary things.

That was the day when the city hall was blown up.

A Kharkiv street after a bombardment in March, 2022. Photo: WikiCommons/mvs.gov.ua

Up until then, my husband had refused to leave. We just couldn’t believe it was war. We were still hoping it would end today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, but this explosion, the city hall explosion, it finally pushed us to leave. The building was near our house.

We didn’t know where to go or what to do, but my sister talked to her boss and found out that there would be an evacuation train in Kharkiv leaving in 40 minutes. We took only our backpacks. My daughter was still in her pajamas.

We took backpacks and kids.

My mother didn’t want to go, so she stayed behind.

My sister and I went to the train station together with our children. When we heard the train announcement, we ran towards the train — it was good that we only had backpacks — but when we got there, the train was already closed.

My husband asked the national guard to open the door, but the train was full of people — there were no places for us – so they didn’t open the door. But my husband asked again, one more time, and they did it. They opened the door.

Six of us got in.

My husband didn’t come with us, though. He went back to stay with my mother.

We arrived in Warsaw on March 2.

Refugees traveling through the Warsaw East train station. Photo: CARE

I want to go home, but Kharkiv is still heavily bombarded. My son’s school was destroyed. The shelling doesn’t stop. My neighbor’s son is staying in our house, because they don’t have a house anymore, and he told us that during an explosion, our chandelier fell, but it isn’t destroyed. It just stays there, where it fell.

It is difficult to predict what will happen next. After everything we’ve gone through, we have to live one day, and then another.

I want to go home, but I don’t want to bring my children back to ruins. I want my children to have the good and happy future I was seeking all my life.

I have worked as a teacher for almost 20 years. I’ve coached children. In Kharkiv I had six groups, children of different ages and of different achievements, national champions and beginners. For the past four years I had been working as a teacher at the National Technical University, Kharkiv Polytechnical Institute.

Now, I have a post not really close to my what I’ve trained for, but I’m lucky to have it. In Warsaw, there aren’t jobs for women, especially if you don’t know the language.

Education for Ukrainian Children

Over 9 million Ukrainian refugees have fled to Poland since the start of the war, with 90% being women and children. Through partnerships and your continued support, CARE has been able to support Ukrainian children in continuing their education in Poland, and assist parents in gaining employment.

In the school where I work now, there are two classes with Ukrainian children. One class is children from 10th and 11th grades, and the other class is ninth grade. So I am with these children and I help them.

Half of the kids know what they want to do in life, and the other half don’t want to do anything. They don’t know why they are going to school, what they are doing. They came from different cities, some came from Kyiv, others from Kryvyi Rih, some are from Kharkiv, Dnipro.

I think it’s good that these children have someone who can help them, someone who is on their side. I understand. You realize that your life was taken from you. Beautiful life. Happy life. You have to start it all over.

*This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Back to Top