'I came to Warsaw to build a new life' - Daria's story of hope - CARE

'I came to Warsaw to build a new life' - Daria's story of hope

Portrait of Daria Khrystenko

All photos by Raegan Hodge/CARE

All photos by Raegan Hodge/CARE

CARE’s Daria Khrystenko is a refugee from Ukraine, with family remaining in the country while she works with fellow refugees in Poland. She shares her story here.

As soon as the war broke out, I knew we had to leave Kyiv immediately.

I grabbed one small bag, my son Max, and my two cats and drove to the smaller city Kremenchuk where my parents live. Not long after, my mom began to have heart problems because of all the stress, so again I packed up the car, this time driving her and Max out of the country.

We drove through Romania and Moldova, Slovakia and finally found accommodation in Warsaw. Looking back, the memories are foggy—I was only concerned about protecting my son and mother.

I’m glad I was able to leave, but now I am so sad when I think about the little personal things: the keepsakes and photos I left behind. One photo I remember is that of my grandmother’s wedding—it’s old and faded but you can make out their faces and the traditional flower crown she is wearing. They are all very thin because of a food shortage in Ukraine.

My grandmother had a hard life—she is Lithuanian, and because of that, the Soviets moved her and her parents by force to Kazakhstan, where her father was kidnapped and put in prison. Her mother took her and two other children and joined family in Ukraine, but it was during the famine when the Soviets withheld food from Ukrainians. My grandmother survived but her baby sister didn’t. Despite all this, her wedding was a time of joy, and the photo has always reminded me of her strength.

Based on these fond memories, we at CARE organized a traditional flower headdress-making workshop for Ukrainian refugees like me as well as our Polish neighbors at a community garden. The workshop quickly turned into a celebration of pride and hope, something I and the Ukrainian community in Warsaw still greatly need.

Portrait of Daria with her son and mother

I came to Warsaw to build a new life. I registered my son Max for school, and he has made new friends. He is happy here; he spends time with his friends and in the evenings, we have a new tradition of walking our cat in the garden.

I miss my father and grandmother a lot. They stayed in Ukraine. My dad has joined the army and it adds extra worries and stress, but I’m proud of him. He is 63 and he could have come with us, but he chose to defend our country. I hope this conflict ends soon and Ukraine will prosper and rebuild quickly. We have the bravest people, and I am proud to be Ukrainian.

Since the war broke out, I‘m proud to work with CARE USA in Poland. We work in collaboration with Polish NGOs to help Ukrainian refugees by providing many programs: cash assistance, cash-for-work programs that hire Ukrainian teachers in Polish schools and assistance with accommodations.