“It will never stop hurting me that my daughter had to go through all this.” Five Ukrainian people tell us how they were forced to flee their homes in search of safety.
This is the difficult decision millions of Ukrainian citizens have been forced to make since the war began — to leave the only home they’ve ever known in order to protect their families from fighting, shelling and missile attacks.
Eighteen months since the war began, one-third of the population has been forced to flee — and more than six million people are now internally displaced. Meet five Ukrainians who have become displaced amid incredible hardship.
With her bright yellow and blue braids – the colours of the Ukrainian flag – seven-year-old Anastasiia is excited to be joining an outdoor activity for displaced children in Kharkiv, organised by UNHCR’s local partner Proliska.
Her mother, Nelia, is relieved to see her smiling and laughing again after the many challenges she has gone through growing up in a war.
The family was forced to hide underground while their town of Kupiansk was under the Russian Federation’s military control. This had a devastating toll on Anastasiia’s mental health.
“It will never stop hurting me that my daughter had to go through all this,” Nelia says. “We had been hiding in the cellar for two months. We were preparing a cake for her birthday in a shelter. I saw her psychological condition was deteriorating. Even now, she keeps having nightmares and wakes up crying.”
When Ukraine’s government regained control over Kupiansk, the family could finally evacuate to a safer place.
“One day, I saw volunteers announcing that there would be a bus available for those wishing to evacuate. The decision came immediately – we had only 20 minutes to take just some of our things before we boarded,” says Nelia.
The family found temporary accommodation at a shelter in Kharkiv, but they had to start from scratch. With your help, UNHCR provided Anastasiia and her family with essential items such as hygiene kits, as well as psychosocial assistance to help them process their trauma.
Anastasiia is looking forward to September, when she will start school. Seeing Anastasiia find joy again is heart-lifting for Nelia, who strives to bring normalcy to her daughter’s life.
Since the start of the war, UNHCR has supported families in Ukraine with relief items, clothes, cash, winterisation assistance, protection services and psychosocial support.
The destruction of the Kakhovka Dam has had a devastating impact on nearby Ukrainian communities. Flooding forced many people to evacuate. Thousands of families were cut off from drinking water and other essential services.
The morning after the dam collapsed, water flooded the ground floor of Serhii’s house in Kherson.
With nowhere else to live, he had to evacuate to a shelter in nearby Mykolaiv. Serhii hopes that he will be able to return to Kherson after the water level decreases.
UNHCR and local partners have delivered emergency supplies such as bedding, jerry cans and hygiene kits to affected communities. With your support, evacuees are also receiving advice and counselling at bus and train stations across the region.
Anastasiya remembers that the weather in Dnipro was warm and sunny. She and her father were inside their apartment while her son was playing outside. It was 14 January – the day their lives changed in an instant.
“We heard a dull thud. I ran headlong from the fifth floor to [outside] to look for my son. And only then I realised that a rocket had hit my house.”
Anastasiya, her father and her son survived the missile attack on their apartment that killed dozens of people and injured many more. They are now staying in temporary accommodation.
With your support, Anastasiya and others like her received emergency supplies, clothing and cash assistance. They are also receiving counselling - a service that Anastasiya sees as the next step in her family’s healing and recovery.
“All we need now is psychological support … to get back to normal life and to understand how to move on and build the future. Because now we have kind of stopped and live only for tomorrow,” she says.
“Our hopes are to come back to our apartment and rebuild, that children again can loudly play in the yard and we can hear their laughs; that skies are blue and peaceful.”
Volodymyr feels lucky just to be alive. After falling from his second-storey apartment during a missile attack, he was sure he would never walk again.
“Two bombs landed near my house. I was in my apartment, which is located on the second floor. Because of the explosion, I fell from the second floor and got injured. I broke my hip and had a stroke.”
After the devastating attack, Volodymyr left everything behind, including all his personal belongings and documents. He arrived in Dnipro with just the clothes on his back. Now, Volodymyr is living in a shelter where he is recovering from his injuries. He has learned how to walk again and can now move without assistance.
Thanks to UNHCR and partner Proliska’s help, he received new identification documents which are essential for him to be able to get assistance.
“When I arrived in Dnipro, I didn’t have any documents. I was picked up without anything. I got clothes and food here. I was able to restore all my lost documents, including my passport. I am incredibly grateful for this.”
When asked about the future, Volodymyr said: “I want the war to stop”.
Anzhela, 24, holds her four-year-old niece Liliya close as they wait patiently for warm clothes and blankets. Anzhela and her family are now living in Sloviansk, a city in Eastern Ukraine, after their home was destroyed by intense fighting and air raids.
Anzhela is dependent on assistance from organisations like UNHCR to ensure her family receives the care they need.
“My father gets occasional job opportunities, but no proper job so far,” she says. “We are glad that we could get some cash support … We used the money to buy wood for the stove, so we can now cook and heat our house.”
In her village, Anzhela’s family of seven lived comfortably in two houses. Now, the family must adjust to living in one modest house. Despite this, Anzhela feels fortunate just to have her family by her side.
“We were able to rent a house in Sloviansk … This is a very simple house with very basic amenities, but what is most important is that we are all safe and warm this winter.”
Cash assistance will provide a lifeline for displaced families fleeing conflict
More than 3.6 million people have now fled Ukraine
UNHCR’s cash assistance program helps refugees from Ukraine cover their most urgent needs
The majority of funds raised by Australia for UNHCR are directed to UNHCR’s emergency operations, providing the ready funds and resources to respond quickly and effectively in situations of crisis and disaster.