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Ukraine: What happens when you can’t hear the explosions?

An older woman sitting on a bench.

Sviatlana, 70, pictured at a CARE-supported community center in Pokrovsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. All photos: Sarah Easter/CARE

Sviatlana, 70, pictured at a CARE-supported community center in Pokrovsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. All photos: Sarah Easter/CARE

“I am lucky, because I can at least hear the loudest and closest explosions. This could one day save our lives,” says Lena, 40.

Everyone in Lena’s family has a hearing impairment, with her father hearing nothing at all. When you hear an explosion in Ukraine you either run, hide, or throw yourself to the floor, depending on how close it is. Every child, parent, grandparent knows how to react to save their lives. But what about those who cannot hear the explosions?

Lena, a local leader in a 60-member association for people with hearing impairments in Pokrovsk and the surrounding settlements in Eastern Ukraine, explains how it works in her community:

“Those who can hear a little or can feel the vibrations or see the smoke, send a bomb emoji in our group chat, or just ‘Boom,’ so everyone knows that they need to find shelter immediately.”

A woman wearing glasses and a dark blue heavy coat outdoors.
Lena, 40, in front of a CARE-supported community center in Pokrovsk.

“The quiet and distant explosions are usually a signal that more missiles are coming,” she says. “There never is just one and they come usually closer and closer. But we do not hear the distant ones. Therefore, our neighbors help us and tell us when we need to hide.”

‘I feel even more fear’

Her friend Sviatlana, 70, accompanies Lena for moral support, as she has difficulties talking about the war without feeling deep emotional distress. Sviatlana has a hearing device but has to take it out at night.

“Some tell me that they are envious that I do not hear, because then I also do not feel the fear they have,” Sviatlana says. “But I feel even more fear, because I cannot hide as quick as they do.”

Medium portrait of older woman in brown sweater.
Sviatlana wears a hearing device but must remove it at night.

Some members of the association have dogs that alert their owners when there are explosions. “They go completely mad; they run around in circles and bark wildly,” Lena says. “So, we take our cues from them and go find cover.”

The air strikes have increased since the new year started. “It is very scary,” Lena says. “We do not go to sleep before 2 a.m. anymore, because most of the time the missiles come before that. But not always. Two nights ago, the rockets came at 3 a.m. We were sleeping and then the whole bed jumped and shook. We then all ran into the corridor to get away from the windows.”

Now they experience explosions nearly every night.

“We really hate the nights,” Lena says, trailing off, finding it too difficult to continue. Sviatlana takes her hand and continues. “We are so afraid for our children, and we cannot leave, because it is too expensive, since we only have a small pension.”

Sviatlana’s pension is around $65 each month, while rent in the relatively safer western part of Ukraine is around $485 monthly for a single-room apartment.

Incomes are elusive

Many people with hearing impairment, Lena included, lost their jobs when the war escalated two years ago. She was a gardener on a farm and took care of the flowers.

A woman in glasses seated on a bench indoors.
Lena inside the community center in Pokrovsk.

“Pokrovsk used to be full of flowers,” Lena says. “Pink, white, and red roses.”

Finding a job in wartime is difficult for everyone. Many enterprises were destroyed or have stopped working. In the first months of the war, nearly 5 million jobs were lost in Ukraine.

“I tried to find a new job,” Lena says. “My daughter Sofya asked me to stay home, because she is so afraid when I leave the house.”

As someone who cannot hear the incoming missiles it is also a higher risk factor for Lena to leave the house.

“You have to drop to the ground immediately after an incoming explosion to save your limbs, but if we cannot hear it coming, what shall we do?”

Without a stable income and only the meager pension of her parents, Lena tries to sell everything they do not need.

“Whatever we are not able to take with us, if we have to flee suddenly, I sell to survive,” she says. “For example, the TV or washing machine.”

The last thing she sold was her daughter’s running sneakers, sold for about $9 to fund butter, fresh baked goods, and a hot dog for Sofya.

“She used to do track running at school, but that is over now. She does not need the shoes in war,” Lena says. “We must save on everything because it is not enough. My parents grow a few potatoes and tomatoes in the garden, which we can eat,” she says, as Sviatlana adds: “that is why we are grateful for any humanitarian aid. We received a hygiene kit, which is normally very expensive, and it was very helpful.”

A room filed with bags of supplies
In Kherson, a CARE partner organization distributes hygiene kits, cookware (pots and pans) and other essential items such as flashlights, power banks, gas cookers, and sleeping bags.

The hygiene kits, distributed by a CARE partner, included towels, toilet paper, toothpaste, shower gel, soap, wet tissue, sponges, and detergent.

“We tried to save as much as possible, so it would last us longer,” Sviatlana says. “We also have to save water, because the system is overloaded, and we only have water for three days in a week. So, we have full buckets, pans, and bottles of water in our apartment everywhere.”

“We just wish that people with hearing impairment are considered more in this war,” Sviatlana says, again taking Lena’s hand. “It is very difficult for us to survive.”

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