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A Ukrainian family’s resilience

26 February 2024, Impact of Our Work

Two years in the shadow of war

“I survive on humanitarian aid. We live on what is given to us. We bake bread, we have our own potatoes from the garden. But macaroni and stuff like that ... It is very hard for those who are jobless and have a big family with children.” – Antonina* on life in frontline areas.

The new reality

Illia* is a spirited 7-year-old who lives with his mother Antonina, father Serhii* and grandmother Tamara* just 70km from the frontline of the conflict in the south-eastern region of Ukraine. For them the war has been a relentless storm, disrupting every facet of their lives. In the early days of the war, as the fighting edged closer with every passing hour, it forced them from their apartment to a relative's home, then to a local school basement with 250 others seeking refuge from the ceaseless bombardment. 

“It was artillery – they were firing from canons and multiple rocket launchers ... But there was only one exit. And if it had been hit, that would have been it. All 250 people would have been killed,”  recalls Serhii.

As the town was besieged, Illia and his family found themselves running out of food and water, surviving on eggs from their chickens and rationing products. 

Illia, 7, picking an egg from a chicken nest in the shed of his family house.
“We were lucky to have chickens, so children could eat eggs,” says Serhii, Illia’s father.

The invisible wounds of war

The conflict has left deep scars, especially on the children. Illia developed a crippling fear of mines and unexploded ordnances that rendered him afraid of stepping on the ground.

“He was not going outside,”  explains Antonina, “we used to go out to feed chickens, and he was too afraid to stay home alone. So, my husband used to pick him up, and we went all together. [Illia] said someone might have planted something [explosives] at night when we did not see. He could not walk in the backyard freely.”

Illia's participation in a Child Friendly Space, established by Save the Children and operated by our local partner Slavic Heart, has been instrumental in beginning to overcome this fear. Here, Illia can engage with peers, share his experiences and receive psychosocial support, crucial for healing the invisible wounds of war.

Now he can run around the backyard, but he is still afraid of walking on the grass when playing outside. 

Despite the many challenges, the family managed to cobble together a life, cooking on a makeshift hardwood stove as utilities were cut off. Incredibly, they also managed to continue Illia's education by selling eggs to pay for a tutor while schools were closed.

Illia is now in the second grade and can connect to online classes with his mother’s smartphone. He enjoys learning but wants to go to real school.

The long road ahead

Since 24 February, our team in Ukraine has reached over 1.8 million people – including around 754,000 children. We are working closely with about 25 partners to provide life-saving assistance such as food and water, cash transfers, and safe spaces, to make sure children and families impacted by this crisis have the support they need. 

This assistance has been a lifeline for Illia and his family. The provision of linen kits, blankets, and towels offered a semblance of comfort and normalcy in their disrupted lives. 

As the second anniversary of the war passes, the family have entered another harsh winter. This time though, their resilience is fortified by their knowledge that they have already overcome what once seemed insurmountable. Antonina's hopes are humble: for the war to end, for her family to be safe, and for a return to normal. 

Save the Children is continuing to support children, families and communities that persevere through this brutal reality no child should have to endure. As the war in Ukraine persists, with the assistance provided by our committed supporters and partners, we are working to alleviate immediate suffering as well as build a sense of community and resilience among those most affected. 

Illia, 7, and his mother Antonina, 48, pose for a photo with Zaia the rabbit in their backyard in Kharkiv region, Ukraine.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

Photos: Vsevolod Prokofiev / Save the Children.

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