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Ukraine: 'I saw the missile coming' – a struggle of a single mother returning to rebuild a home

A missile explosion in March 2022 near a dormitory used for general housing in Chernihiv injured the daughter of Alina and destroyed the room that has served as their home. After months of being displaced and far from Chernihiv, the mother and daughter decided to return and resettle.

©DRC Ukraine, Chernihiv, 2023, Oleksandr Ratushniak.

Posted on 24 Sep 2023

Natalia* and her daughter Alina* live in a 10-square-meter room in a dormitory in Chernihiv, a city in Northern Ukraine. This room does not belong to her—she rents it, paying only for utilities as the owner does not want to charge Natalia for rent. In Ukraine, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, dorm rooms were allowed to be privatised. Natalia owns one of them, another room of 15 square metres in a dormitory nearby. She was at home when a missile explosion hit back in March 2022 causing heavy damages. Only the walls are left, and everything has to be renovated.

"That day, I decided to go to the kitchen to get some water. My sister was there with me, and suddenly I saw something flying outside. I crouched under the window and, in a second, realised what was happening—everything got black. When I woke up, the girls who were in the kitchen with me were all bleeding. The explosion was right in front of my room, and Alina came out covered in blood," says Natalia, recalling the shock of the moment when she did not know how badly her daughter was injured.

Alina was taken to a hospital. In addition to her injured leg, Alina also had a protrusion in her back and began to experience epileptic seizures. Immediately after the surgery on her leg, a doctor asked Natalia and Alina to leave. "The staff said that they were expecting the hospital for children to be shelled, so we had to either hurry to the basement or leave," says Natalia.

They went home and moved to the basement of their house where they spent several days. Alina was bleeding, and her leg was not healing. That was when Natalia decided to leave the city.

Volunteers helped them get out of Chernihiv and to a safe place. They travelled in a cargo van without seats and sat on the floor of the car as they headed to Kyiv. From there, they took a train to Zakarpattia Oblast in the West of Ukraine. After spending weeks in Uzhhorod city hospital there, local volunteers helped them find accommodation in Hanychi village nearby on the border with Romania.

©DRC Ukraine, Chernihiv, 2023, Oleksandr Ratushniak.

©DRC Ukraine, Chernihiv, 2023, Oleksandr Ratushniak.

Rebuilding the home and collecting furniture

Natalia and Alina returned home to Chernihiv two months later when they had recovered a bit and felt strong enough to travel once again. Of all their belongings, only a table, a microwave and a TV were left after the explosion. After moving into a nearby dormitory, Natalia found the replacements for the furniture she needed through online groups where people give away their old stuff for free.

"The sofa we got was very old, and it was uncomfortable for my injured child to sleep on it. That is why I turned to DRC for help," says Natalia.

Thanks to funding from USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, DRC was been able to support 150 families with children who have been affected by explosive ordnance accidents. DRC helped Natalia buy a new sofa with an orthopaedic mattress, a laptop for online learning, as well as a backpack and stationery for Alina to resume school.  

Natalia works as a salesperson in a shop, but her salary is barely enough to cover her current needs. In addition, Alina's treatment is extremely expensive. The city administration and the organisation People in Need helped renovate the dormitory building where Natalia's room is located, but she still needs to pay for final repairs and the whole interior work in her room.

"So far, I have neither the strength nor the finances to do. But I do my best and work seven days a week and as much as I can," she says.

When asked if she would like to move abroad, she has made up her mind. "I have a big family of eight people. I cannot and do not want to leave them. And they do not want to leave the country. I also do not want to leave when everything is calm in the city. But when we are under fire, I sometimes panic and am ready to take Alina and move away somewhere safe, even on foot," she adds.

DRC’s Victim Assistance Programme is possible thanks to funding from the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund and the USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. It is supported as well through means donated by private foundations and individuals primarily in Denmark. 

*Names were changed for confidentiality purposes.

Natalia shows her room in the dormitory that was affected by a missile explosion in March 2022. After renovation supported by the municipality and international NGO, she still has to pay for final repairs and the whole interior work in the room to make it livable. ©DRC Ukraine, Chernihiv, 2023, Oleksandr Ratushniak.

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