February 24, 2022, has divided the lives of all Ukrainians into before and after.
People had been talking for a long time about the possibility of the Russian invasion. People had warned and discussed it. But we had not believed until the very last moment. Until 4 a.m when we were awakened by explosions. We rushed to our computers and mobile phones. And from the first messages on Facebook feed, Telegram and Twitter we understood that we were attacked.
A War. Not a local war - a full-scale military assault.
Tens of thousands of men and women went into the armed forces, to the fronts with weapons in their hands, to defend Ukraine.
Millions of Ukrainians were forced to leave their homes and move to safe places. Some of them abroad, some of them to the western part of Ukraine.
Suddenly, millions became home front fighters - volunteers.
Peaceful life was over. The first refugees already appeared during the first days of the war. Russian occupiers had no mercy. They started destroying Ukrainian cities with rockets and bombs. They bombed Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Mariupol, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy...
Ordinary everyday problems have grown in times. Especially for people with special needs: ill people, people with disabilities, etc. And the responsibility of solving these problems fell on volunteers.
We are going to tell you the stories of those who miraculously escaped shelling and bombing. The stories of those people who lost everything and were forced to leave their houses.
Just a few stories. There are thousands, tens, hundreds of thousands of such stories. They need help.
We are going to tell you about those people who selflessly help those in need and their hearts dedicate their actions. About those who, under shelling, take people to safe places. About those people who surround those in need with their warmth and care, and bring them back to life every day. They do it at the cost of their health and well-being. They also need help.
Story number one. About Charitable Fund "Pomogaem”
The main area of the Fund is to help young children with developmental disabilities. They need medicines, baby food, and special nutrition.
Story number two. Priest Andriy Pinchuk
I think it's psychologically important for people that when we arrive, the priest comes out first.
Story number three. Victoria from Severodonetsk
I am telling you this and cry. We had such a beautiful city. And now - only ruins, as in films about the Second World War. Everything is burning, blazing.
Story number four. Nastya from Lisichansk
Since March 8, we have been hiding from the shelling in the basements. First in my house. Then we moved to the hospital. I don't know how many days that went on. We didn't count.
Story number five. Lilya from Severodonetsk
The youngest turned one year old on February 25, she still can’t walk. But, as soon as she hears “bang”, she immediately crawls into the corridor herself.
Story number six. Sergei from Rubezhnoye
It's impossible to put into words. When you are in a room with a small child, and a projectile flies into it.
The seventh story is a life-affirming one. Clowns
They were sitting in the basements during the bombing. They are 2-3 years old, and they already know what a fighter plane is. This is scary.
We went to a shelter - a transit point for people who were evacuated from the horrors of war. It was organized by the Fund on the first days of the war. During the journey we talked to the coordinator Olga:
- Our Fund was founded 14 years ago by Priest Andriy Pinchuk. The initial aim of the fund was the assistance in the adoption of babies abandoned by their parents, assistance to family-type orphanages, foster families. Priest Andriy is an adoptive father himself. The foundation has a rehabilitation center for children with diseases.
The main area of the Fund is to help young children with developmental disabilities. They need medicines, baby food, and special nutrition. Those are children who are fed through a tube. Children who need not ordinary food - it is poorly digested. Getting such food during the war is very difficult, almost impossible. Now there are about 300 such wards. And they need help all the time.
Schelter was organized by priest Andriy Pinchuk together with activists of the local community immediately after the start of the war. A team of hospital clowns works with children. They also have an art therapist and an adult psychologist.
Dozens of volunteers work in our team. Now they also need help, because many of them have lost their jobs because of the war. We are trying to help as much as we can. At least with food and gasoline and pay for mobile communication.
The shelter is a huge mechanism, sometimes we accept hundreds of people a day. We accommodate people, provide basic needs, clothes, feed them 3 times a day. The daily supply of food costs tens of thousands of hryvnias a day. These are constant needs.
We had expected that people would have stayed in it for 3-6 days, and then would find accommodation, work and would leave. But some stayed longer, they don't want to go. You will see everything for yourself - Olga says.
More information about the fund can be found on the organization's website: https://pomogaem.com.ua/history.html
More than 10 million Ukrainians left their homes because of the war. Approximately 6.5 million of them became internally displaced persons, others left for neighboring countries.
❤ ❤ ❤ SUPPORT THE "POMOGAEM" FUND with a charitable donation. Payment to the account is accepted in any currency
“Many of the displaced belong to particularly vulnerable groups: pregnant and lactating women, the elderly, people with disabilities, people with chronic illnesses, and people directly affected by violence,” says the International Organization for Migration.
During the month of the war in Ukraine, 135 children were killed, 184 children were injured.
According to UNICEF, 1.8 million children moved to neighboring countries as refugees, 2.5 million became refugees inside Ukraine.
On the way to the shelter, Olga warned us that we were unlikely to find priest Andriy Pinchuk. Because he is always on the road. He takes people out of the "places at risk". They purchased several buses.
Every day they look on the map, where else they can help. And they do it. They often travel under fire. Sometimes the military helps, sometimes the police.
We know a little about the deeds of priest Andriy from his publications on his Facebook page.
Perhaps it would be appropriate to recall one story told by him. During the evacuation flight from Kharkov, Priest Andriy stood near the bus. His phone rang - a bell ringing. And, at that moment, a snow-white dove flew from somewhere. And sat right on the arm. Miracle. Good news!
A miracle awaited for us too. Priest Andriy Pinchuk was there, and we managed to talk to him.
- We drove into an area where constant shelling and bombing took place. People asked us to pick up one grandmother. She was left all alone. For several days she just sat and screamed. She couldn't even go to the toilet.
We picked her up and transported her to Kramatorsk.
We washed her there at school, changed her clothes. She was very happy.
I asked her if she wanted to eat. She didn't answer.
I asked her when was the last time she eat?
It turned out that 5 days ago.
She was afraid to say this because she was worried that if she asked for food she would be abandoned again.
There are fifteen such old people in our shelter now. We agreed with a nursing home in western Ukraine. We send them there.
- Do you evacuate orphanages and shelters?
- Yes. When the hostilities began, we traveled a lot, both to foster families and to family-type homes. We helped take out three shelters. Оne from Mariupol was taken out just before the blockade, two from the Kharkiv region. They were taken out of difficult places, from under-shelling by the police and the Armed Forces of Ukraine to a safe place, and then we helped further. Then, together with help of the international fund "Dityache Mistechko", they were transported to Poland and the Czech Republic
- And as a priest, do you help people too?
- I think it's psychologically important for people that when we arrive, the priest comes out first. It calms people down. We were in Severodonetsk when the bombing started very near. And, one woman grabbed me with both hands. She thought I was a concrete shelter.
To be honest, I don't have time for spiritual questions right now. They need to be dealt with slowly, so as not to be distracted by phones. I leave it for later, for peacetime.
The shelter is located in a cozy place not far from the Dnipro. This Place is atmospheric, sacred. No wonder the first people settled here about 16 thousand years ago.
There will be no photographs of buildings and this place. Because now in Ukraine it is deadly dangerous and prohibited. After the huge inscriptions "CHILDREN" on the asphalt in front of the shelter in the Mariupol theatre became a target for a Russian bomber.
There will be no photos of our next story characters either. They escaped from shelling and bombing a few days ago. They are not inclined to give interviews and do not want to be photographed.
Victoria's family is from Severodonetsk - two daughters, the eldest is already a mother herself, her child is 4 years old and the daughter's husband. In civilian life, Victoria worked at the Severodonetsk chemical plant "Azot». She worked there for almost 30 years.
- Our city prospered. Roads, playgrounds, parks, new buildings - everything was beautiful. Despite the fact that for eight years there has been a war. But we hoped that things would somehow calm down. No one thought and wondered how everything would happen. Everything fell apart in an instant, - says Victoria.
- On February 24, my daughter was going to school. She received a call saying that she was not going anywhere because the war had begun. I didn't believe it because no one told me that. And I went to work. I only managed to get to the bus stop, because my eldest daughter called. The war she said, no one goes anywhere.
I am telling you this and crying. We had such a beautiful city. And now - only ruins, as in films about the Second World War. Everything is burning, blazing. No water, no heat. Electricity is still available.
My husband stayed in Severodonetsk, he takes care of his father. He is in the hospital now, he is all wounded by shrapnel. The shell exploded in the front garden of his house, and he was inside the house.
Then Victoria falls silent.
- And where are you going next?
- What next? We have nowhere to go. We want to stay here, in the Dnipro. As long as there is at least a small hope that we will return to our Severodonetsk, we will stay here.
We will wait. We will live and work. Even if everything is destroyed there - it's okay. We have hands, so we will rebuild everything anew. I am an optimist.
- We evacuated on our own, two families - 8 people. In civilian life, Nastya is a saleswoman and a manicurist.
Since March 8, we have been hiding from the shelling in the basements. First in my house. Then we moved to the hospital. I don't know how many days that went on. We didn't count. Then we were asked to leave because the basement was needed for the hospital. We packed our things and left.
Our whole big family and sisters. With kids. Eight people. - Nastya speaks slowly as if reliving those days again.
- We didn't know where to go. The contact number of this place was found by chance.
But it's so great here. Such good people. I didn't think there were people like that.
We've been here for six days now. We looked around a bit. Found out what and how. We found a place to live. There is seems to work. We won't go further.
We plan to stay here for now. We hope to return to Lysychansk.
In peaceful life, Lilya was a storekeeper. She came here with her son's family: three adults and three children.
- In Severodonetsk we lived on the line of fire, - says Lilya. On the first day, two windows flew out because of the shock wave. We covered them somehow and continued to live like that.
We hid from shelling in the corridor because we did not have time to go down to the basement. The youngest turned one year old on February 25, she still can’t walk. But as soon as she hears “bang”, she immediately crawls into the corridor herself.
Somehow got used to it. And then the military came and said: "Go away - you are in the line of fire."
We packed up and left. It's a miracle that we got on the bus to the priest.
I have three children, five grandchildren, - continues Lilya. – the youngest daughter stayed in Severodonetsk. She didn't want to leave. And now they can't leave.
- Where are you going next, do you have any plans?
- We plan to go abroad. People say there is an opportunity to go to Norway for free. We want to go where there is silence so that the can children sleep peacefully, and do not scream at night.
We would like to stay in Ukraine, but we don’t have money to rent a house. We will go to Norway. We are even ready to learn
Sergei and his wife are orphans. They have a 1.5-year-old daughter. They are experiencing the war for the second time. In 2014, their house was destroyed. The state gave them an apartment. Later a daughter was born.
- It's impossible to put into words. When you are in a room with a small child, and a projectile flies into it. The blast wave just threw us against the wall. We survived by a miracle, - Sergei says.
- We were brought here. We couldn't leave the room for two days, we didn't want to. Then the clowns and the magician came to us. They are so good - we were brought back to life.
We do not want to leave Ukraine. We want to find an apartment so that we can raise our daughter normally. For my daughter to go to kindergarten, to school. We want to work. We want a normal life.
Hospital clowns Rostik and Mint work in the shelter. In peacetime, they worked in a children's hospital - they supported seriously ill children (oncology and other diseases). Now they are returning to normal life for both children and adults.
- Sometimes I come home and it feels like I've been shot but I forgot to die,- says the clown Mint.
- And then I come here, I see these kids. They were sitting in the basements during the bombing. They are 2-3 years old, and they already know what a fighter plane is. This is scary. But, we try to give them love, to hug them, to warm them. They are so happy to see us.
And childhood becomes childhood.
editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Dnepr Vecherniy"