• Anna Tsybko | National Communications Officer

Kyiv — It’s 2024, and the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, an escalation of the protracted conflict that ignited in 2014, has left indelible scars on the landscape and the lives of its people.  

At least 10,000 civilians, including more than 560 children, have been killed, over 18,500 have been injured, and millions displaced since Russia launched its full-blown attack against Ukraine in February 2022. Beyond the cold numbers lie real stories of shattered homes and separated families. 

Residential buildings destroyed by the Russain airstrikes in Borodianka. Photo:IOM/Iryna Tymchyshyn

“I first heard explosions in April of 2014. There were more and more of them as time went on.”

Anton, displaced from Donetsk in eastern Ukraine in 2014, now actively gives back to his host community in Odesa. Photo: IOM/Stanislav Kalach

Anton Vaskovskyi, a native of Donetsk, was uprooted from his hometown in 2014, after escaping the relentless hostilities in eastern Ukraine. For almost a decade now, Odesa, a city in southern Ukraine, has been his new home.

“I first heard explosions in April 2014,” says Anton, reflecting on the start of his displacement journey a decade ago. “There were more and more of them as time went on. I left Donetsk in July 2014, the day after my 25th birthday. The events of 2014 made me grow up very fast.” 

Anton at a LEGO-based therapy event for children in Odesa, organized by IOM’s partner Caritas. Photo: IOM/Stanislav Kalach

Anton left behind his tranquil life, his family home and childhood memories: “These are such fond memories, when the whole family would gather, we would visit my grandparents... These memories are still with me today.” The realization that his life had irrevocably changed, and he would not be able to return to his normal life again, took a toll on Anton’s mental health. “When I left Donetsk, I thought I would return home in just a few months. It took me three years to come to terms with the fact that the past is gone, and I needed to move on. A choice without a choice.” Demotivated and lost, Anton struggled in a new city without any support system.

Anton delivering pet food to an animal shelter in Odesa, January 2024. Photo: IOM/Stanislav Kalach

After eight years in Odesa, now in his early thirties, Anton created a new community and found a marketing job he enjoyed.  “One of my greatest wishes was that what I felt and saw [in 2014], would never happen again.” But then on 24 February 2022, Anton, while on a short business trip to Kherson, awoke to explosions. “I opened the window and saw the river port on the Dnieper on fire, everything was burning. It became clear that the full-scale war had begun.” 

Anton faced a challenging journey back to Odesa, at some point resorting to hitchhiking. Anton recalls that the truck driver who kindly picked him up was gripped with panic, like everyone else in Ukraine that day.  

During the initial months of the invasion, Anton lost contact with his father, who was in Mariupol at the time, for 50 days. After almost two months of uncertainty, Anton learned his father was alive through acquaintances and online video clips. “My father and 50 other people hid in a basement, where they survived for 54 days.” 

Anton at a LEGO-based therapy event for children in Odesa, organized by IOM’s partner Caritas. Photo: IOM/Stanislav Kalach

Anton says he understands the profound impact volunteering can have on a shattered life. Upon his return to Odesa, Anton began volunteering at a local city hospital that was overwhelmed with incoming patients. While lending a helping hand to others, Anton realized he, too, needed support. He received humanitarian aid from IOM and participated in an event organized by IOM’s mental health and psychosocial support team, sparking his curiosity in the humanitarian field. “I became curious about how it worked,” he says.  

Today, Anton chooses to spend his time giving back to his community by supporting displaced people like himself and spearheading initiatives at his organization like supporting animal shelters. 

Anton at one of the animal shelters in Odesa, January 2024. Photo: IOM/Stanislav Kalach

Despite the weight of ongoing war, Anton is committed to supporting those who have been deeply impacted: 

“Now, at 34, I feel no less than 55. I understand that what I saw and experienced from 2014 to 2024 is probably too much, not just for one person, but for thousands of people. I don't want anyone to experience what I have.”  
Anton's decade-long journey of displacement and uncertainty is shared by many in Ukraine – a nation still grappling with the consequences of the protracted conflict and the wounds left by the 2022 full-scale invasion. 

The IOM assistance that Anton received was made possible thanks to the United States Agency for International Development (BHA), the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, and the Government of Korea. 

IOM has been operating in Ukraine since 2016 and significantly scaled up its response following the Russian full-scale invasion. Since February 2022, IOM staff have been tirelessly working to address urgent needs, build resilience, and enable recovery, reaching over 6.5 million people inside Ukraine and across 11 neighbouring countries. 

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