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A different kind of Christmas

19 January 2023, Impact of Our Work

For children who fled the conflict in Ukraine, Christmas was not quite the same

Nine-year-old Masha sits behind her desk, trying to do her homework. From a mobile phone, her father is talking to her, trying to teach her Maths. Nowadays this is an ordinary scene, except that Masha is in England living with her mother and six-year-old sister, while her father is in Kyiv where he stayed behind after conflict escalated in Ukraine in February 2022.

Olena, Masha’s mum, shares what it means for her and her daughters to stay connected with her husband. “We still try to stay in touch, even every morning when girls are leaving for school, we try to have a short video call, but sometimes the circumstances don't allow to do it. Communicating with my husband through video call, makes us have a nicer day,” she says.


Photo: Nina Sologubenko/Save the Children
Masha video calls her father, who helps her with her maths homework.

But at Christmas time, his physical presence is deeply missed.

Now it could also be fun (Christmas), but not as much, because we're not altogether. It's going to be a bit different because we're not at home.


Masha recalls how her whole family used to celebrate Christmas together in Ukraine.
“We decorated the Christmas tree together. Mum cooked something very tasty. Dad put garlands up in different places at home. My sister searched for a dress for herself. At Christmas we always cook 'coated herring', it's herring coated with beetroots. We also eat herring sandwiches,” she says.
No doubt the Christmas that just passed was a bit different. Says Olena, “I don't believe that it (Christmas) will be as happy as it is usually, but we'll try to make it at least not sad, so to say, somewhere in the middle and hopefully there will be power in Kyiv so that we could connect and have at least a chat (with my husband) or be united for family supper or family dinner, whatever.”
Recently the video calls have become more difficult. Airstrikes have damaged infrastructure and resulted in power outages in Ukraine.
“One of the most difficult things we are facing now is a split of the family that we have now.
And it was not such a big problem for us to keep in touch, thanks to modern technologies but unfortunately, in recent months, where the shelling has been increased, people living in Kyiv face so many difficulties, looking for simple things like connection or power,” Olena shares.

Photo: Nina Sologubenko/Save the Children
Masha and Natasha hold their father’s photo which they keep on their mobile phone


A Christmas wish.

On a recent phone call, Masha’s father said that whatever she drew would come true.
“So I drew us together, at the seaside next summer. And when I was drawing him, I felt happy.”

Photo: Nina Sologubenko/Save the Children
Masha drew what she hopes for next summer – for her family to be reunited

Masha has many other wishes for Christmas. “I want a Christmas tree, it could be a small one, but I want one. I also would like my dad to come here, or at least to talk to him over the phone. And to greet each other.”

“I'd like to have many presents. I want peace. And I want a certain type of sweets. And I want clothes for my teddy bear.”

It’s a child’s wish list of big and simple things. While most would be easy to provide, others are not too straightforward.
But for Olena, there is only one wish. “By the end of the day, we'll try to make a wish, to come back home, maybe later on, maybe not this Christmas, but still will always keep it in mind.”

So maybe one day we'll manage to come back home.


For now, Masha, her sister Natasha and Olena try to make a home where they can be safe, far from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Save the Children supported the family with voucher assistance to help them pay rent, food, clothes, toys, and other essentials for the children. With the help of donors, we were able to provide the girls’ school with one-off financial support towards play therapy sessions for Natasha.
“It's not only the fact that Save the Children providing financial support to families, but also, they do provide lots of psychological support and educational support as they give so many possibilities, for kids to learn, for kids to develop and continue this normal life, even staying far away from the motherland (Ukraine),” Olena says.
In England Masha says she feels calm. “I feel good. I like it at school, I like to study at school. I also like the landmarks. And the sea, we live near the sea.”
As Masha’s drawing depicts, hopefully her family will be all together soon and spend the next summer by the seaside.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

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