Uncertain but adapting: Four Ukrainian mothers reflect on their new daily reality in Romania
SOS Children’s Villages Romania currently shelters displaced Ukrainian children and families across its three villages: Bucharest, Cisnadie, and Hemeiusi. As of 26 March, 16 of these children and 7 parents – including Viktoria, Hana, Natalia, and Lana* – are housed in the village in Bucharest. The four women share their thoughts on a new daily reality for themselves and their children. The National Director of SOS Romania shares plans to upscale SOS response.
“We thought we’d stay for two weeks, and now it’s been over a month already,” says Viktoria, a mom of two from the south of Ukraine. Viktoria and three of her close friends – Hanna, Natalia and Lana – each with 2 children, fled the war in Ukraine and found shelter in SOS Children’s Village Bucharest.
“The uncertainty is scary,” Viktoria adds. “Back home we had our lives, our full families. We had plans – for the weekend, for the summer, for next year. If a plan fell through, we had somewhere to go. Now, we don’t know what to do next. Should we plan? Plan for what? What can we go back to?”
Families torn apart
“24 February, the day the war started, was a shock,” says Hanna, Viktoria’s friend. “You don’t expect to wake up, grab what you can, take your children and leave not knowing when you’d get back. That initial shock has passed now, but the fear and uncertainty remains.”
“We all have our husbands in Ukraine,” says Viktoria. “Our parents, our relatives are there. I talk to my husband every day. He’s alone now. It appears as if the situation toughened him, but I can tell he’s sad. He misses our children, he misses me, he misses our life together. I miss him, our children miss their dad. You go through life as a family, and then suddenly you must make a choice that leaves you alone. That is difficult for everyone, regardless whether you’re a man or a woman.”
“My parents tell me not to worry,” says Natalia, another of Viktoria’s friends. “They say they’ve gotten used to the new normal of shooting, shelling and air raid sirens. My mom says she doesn’t even wake up to the sound of sirens any more. ‘Whatever happens is my destiny,’ she says to me, and tells me to take good care of her grandchildren.”
Together at the SOS Children’s Village
The four mothers and their children came to SOS Children’s Village Bucharest through a contact in the company where one of them worked. That company’s Romanian branch happened to be a corporate partner to SOS Children’s Villages Romania.
“Our wish was to stay together, but we were almost sure that no one would agree to have eight children, age three to 15, and four adults in the same apartment or house. We are thankful to SOS Children’s Villages for having us all stay in the same house. We feel much more comfortable when we’re together. We can support and comfort each other,” says Hanna.
She adds that her sister and her parents managed to get to Romania and will soon join them in the same house in the SOS Children’s Village Bucharest: “It will be such a relief to have them here.”
Childhood upside down
The eight children seem to get along, at least judging by the sound of giggles and stomping feet coming from the rooms.
“Their daily routine has drastically changed,” explains Lena, mother of the oldest 15-year-old girl. “Their lives are turned upside down. At first, they were confused that they had to stay in one room with me, without their own place or privacy. Now it’s better, they have adapted to the reality.
“My teenage daughter was a bit problematic. Nothing serious, just usual teenage behaviour which the war and fleeing our home heightened. I had her speak with a psychologist online, and she came to accept our new reality, at least for the time being.”
"No school again"
The school-age children attend online classes held by their teachers who are still in Ukraine. The moms say the children hardly learn anything. “They are at different ages and in different classes which are all held at different times,” says Viktoria. “So, there is no one time period when all school-age children are busy. Someone is always free to play which is distracting to the ones following classes.
“Another, much harder circumstance is that the classes are often interrupted by air raid sirens. Then the teacher stops the class to run to bomb shelters. At the beginning this upset them, but now they just calmly say ‘no school again’.”
Following the year of online schooling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukrainian children went back to school with physical presence, only to have their education cut again this time by having to run for their lives. Still, these four moms don’t give up on their children’s education.
What children need
“We all work with them, whoever can cover some lesson or subject,” says Hanna. “But, it’s not enough. They need textbooks, working books, practice tasks in Ukrainian language, like they had back home. That is not available in Romania yet.”
“The children also need sports,” adds Natalia. “My children took judo back home, and I would really like to see them continue with judo or similar sport. Some of the girls took dancing lessons back home. This is also needed. Basically, any structured physical activity will be good for them.”
“Also drawing and sculpting,” Lena continues. “This would be something we can do together with the children because age doesn’t really matter for drawing and sculpting. I see a big need for this for my teen daughter. There are no children her age in the village, Ukrainian or Romanian. She connects with her friends from home online, but it’s not the same. Most of the time she feels alone and isolated.”
Need to heal
Asked if they need psychological support for themselves, in unison the moms say yes.
“We may appear strong and resilient, and perhaps to some point we are. Each one of us has to be both mother and father here. We need to appear strong for our children’s wellbeing. But, you often read something, see something, hear something, and it breaks you down. The hard truth hits you - you are far away from home, without your partner, and you don’t know if and when you would go back. You start to cry. The nights are especially hard. That’s when you realize how badly you need psychological help.”
After a heavy moment of silence, Viktoria lifts up the mood: “We also need language classes, both English and Romanian. And some sports for ourselves, like riding bicycles or taking fitness classes. We need to keep active and busy.”
Whenever possible, these four moms take their children to the parks of Bucharest. “The parks here are simply lovely,” Viktoria says. “We also went to the Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History – the children loved it. We try to go on as many outings as possible – this keeps us busy, the children learn new things and we all have fun.”
The road ahead
Looking ahead, Diana Podaru, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Romania explains that SOS Romania is currently scaling up support to Ukrainian children and families with different services and in-kind support across its three villages: Bucharest, Cisnadie, and Hemeiusi.
Specifically, there are plans to:
- Increase capacity to accommodate more displaced people.
- Continue to enroll children in kindergarten and after-school education programs, while also developing additional educational projects.
- Establish a Community Center providing mental health and psycho-social support for refugees who are part of SOS and those who are outside of the organization.
Overall, Diana Podaru notes that SOS Romania is ready and flexible to adapt, because they can see that the need created by the war in Ukraine is growing by the day.
*Privacy note: All names are changed; exact location of origin is withheld.
Canadians wishing to support SOS Children's Villages emergency response programs are encouraged to Donate to SOS MAYDAY.