Valentyna and her young family in Ukraine find hope in an uncertain new reality
Valentyna's family lived in Kharkiv before the full-scale invasion. On March 2, 2022, Valentyna, who was pregnant at the time, and her husband and two children, Mark and Matvii, were forced to leave their home for their safety due to constant shelling.
As the situation worsened daily and it became dangerous to stay in the city, more and more people left their homes in search of safety. There was no electricity, and mobile phones no longer worked. Valentyna and her family had no choice but to leave Kharkiv. They quickly packed what they could fit in a few backpacks and rushed to the evacuation trains that would take them west. It was a difficult and scary journey.
“We were standing at the train station, near the platform, trying to get aboard the evacuation train. There were hundreds or thousands of people rushing towards the train. I was hoping that because we had young children with us we would be allowed to board before others, but there was only madness. Something flew over our heads, a missile or a rocket. People ran and panicked, and my family was pushed onto the train tracks. My husband and I tried to cover the children with our bodies to keep them safe in the chaos. We were terrified. When we finally made it on the train and left, it was a long, dark train ride. We were exhausted, cold, and hungry.”
After a long and difficult trip, the family arrived in Chernivtsi, which was considered a safer place. It was still scary as the city was unknown. They had no acquaintances, two small children and a third child, a daughter, on the way. Such uncertainty caused Valentyna a lot of anxiety.
Valentyna and her husband were also worried about their two boys. The children were too young to understand what was happening, but they could see the war's impact on them. They showed signs of stress and were afraid of loud noises that reminded them of shelling. It was difficult for them to cope. Even in a new, safer city, the boys feared everything.
“My eldest son kept asking us when we were going home. He would draw our house back in Kharkiv and our car in the driveway. He would draw his friends from back home, too. I look forward to going back home just like him, but I don’t want to give him false hope. Soon, I say.”
Valentyna learned about SOS Children's Villages from a post on social media and came to the SOS mother and child-friendly space in Chernivtsi. After that first visit, she and her family regularly visited the space. Valentyna was eligible for cash assistance support and was able to rent an apartment for her family, finally settling after weeks on the road and in temporary shelters that were not suitable for her young children.
Valentyna also received a newborn care kit for their daughter, which contained everything she needed to care for her baby for 12 months. She and her two boys also benefited from the mental health and psychosocial support provided by SOS Children’s Villages psychologists, learning techniques to cope with trauma and find normalcy in the crisis. Her boys made friends with children who had also lost their homes. They played therapeutic games and found their childhood again. Networking with other mothers who had also fled their homes helped Valentyna cope with her new reality, and they became her support network.
“The employees in the children’s place [SOS mother and child-friendly space] were very understanding. Many of them had been displaced themselves, sometimes more than once. They knew what it meant to leave everything behind. I felt supported and listened to. Chatting with other mothers in the same situation as me made me feel like I was no longer alone. The help I received there helped me catch my breath.”