Ukraine: Escape from Bucha


Six weeks ago, life was easy for Yuliia, her husband Valerii and their son Artemko.

They had just moved into a new apartment in a quiet, green part of Bucha. She had a job as a hairdresser and loved nothing more than when a client’s salon looked beautiful and confident.

Everything changed one terrible morning in late February. War – violent, loud and terrifying – roared from the north. As her neighborhood went up in flames, Yuliia made the decision to flee.

She and her family, including her mother Zinaida, joined more than 7.1 million (as of April 1, 2022) displaced persons in Europe’s largest country.

Violence ‘incomprehensible’

After four weeks on the road, they arrived in the western province of Zakarpattia, hundreds of kilometers from her ruined hometown.

When Yuliia saw the horrific photos and videos of the massacre and destruction in Bucha, she immediately burst into tears and was left speechless for a while. “This level of violence is unimaginable,” she finally said. “That’s not something you wish on the enemy, but this is something that will never be forgiven or forgotten.”

Yuliia heard from her neighbors that after her family left, their flat had been taken over and their belongings looted. The factory where Yuliia’s mother worked was destroyed by bombs.

Although Ukrainian authorities have regained control, people are still not allowed to go home due to the risk of mines and other explosive remnants of war.

‘This is now our home’

Here in Zakarpattia they can finally take a break. Together with a hundred other displaced persons, they found temporary shelter in a school in the small town of Bushtyno. Volunteers from Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic have done their best to transform impersonal classrooms into cozy bedrooms. The sports hall has become a central warehouse for all the necessities of daily life.

“So here we are. This is now our home. We have everything we need and nice people help us in every way,” says Yuliia. “Even though we now sleep on mattresses on the floor, no rockets fly over our heads and my child is safe. That’s all that matters now.”

She hopes her son will have no memories of those terrifying weeks of fear and flight. “We don’t have a lot of personal belongings, but what really breaks my heart is that we haven’t been able to bring any toys for Artemko. He loves cars and at home he had a lot of car toys, which he misses very much, and asks all the time when he can come back home to play with them again.

I want him to just be a kid, play games and spend time with other kids. If he could have some toys or a bicycle he would be very happy. And it would make me happy too.”

© IOM/Jana Wyzinska

IOM staff at the school gym in Bushtyno village, where the local community stores supplies for displaced people…

This article first appeared on the IOM website

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