Dnipro - Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, hundreds of thousands of families were forced to flee their homes. Nina and her husband, originally from Bakhmut in Eastern Ukraine, faced unimaginable challenges but found safety after months of living in an area of active hostilities. The family made the difficult decision to leave their beloved city last November, with their two daughters in tow. Their journey, with the help of volunteers, took them to a collective centre in Zhovti Vody, Dnipropetrovsk region.
Bakhmut, a small city in Eastern Ukraine, held a special place in Nina and her husband's hearts. Nina’s ancestral home, where generations of her family had lived before her, now is in ruins, a stark reminder of the destructive forces that have ravaged the city.
The couple and their two daughters carry the weight of what they witnessed in Bakhmut. Describing the relentless attacks on their city, the sight of death and the widespread destruction, their emotions are raw and unfiltered. Yet, despite the trauma, they yearn to return when safety allows, even if there's little left to come back to.
“It is our home. Even if there is nothing much to go back to, we would like to return one day, when it’s safe to do so,” says Nina. “We stayed as long as we could, and finally decided to leave because of our children.”
The couple’s youngest daughter, Alina, aged 12, radiates positivity, having made new friends in Zhovti Vody, as well as maintaining contact with her old schoolmates. Alina's affectionate care for her new kitten, Shustrik, and her vibrant drawings, created with the colored pencils salvaged from their home, are heartwarming reminders of youthful optimism. Alina dreams of becoming a clothing designer, a fleeting dream as her mother says the girl has a new future envisioned for herself every week. “Her interests change so fast, I can’t keep up,” says Alina’s mother.
Nina's older daughter, Liza, who is deaf, was unable to hear the thunderous explosions that rocked their city. Yet, she could feel the vibrations from the shockwaves, leaving her bewildered and scared. The family endured multiple shelling and rocket attacks, at a certain point having to make a 6 km walk to the only operational store still open that had some remainders of stock of basic necessities all while dodging constant danger.
"This is where we are from, where our ancestors are buried. No matter what, we want to go back and feel at home."
Through it all, the family clings to the hope of returning to their native Bakhmut, which fell under Russian control in May of 2023. For Nina's husband, it’s not only the physical destruction of their home that is distressing, but also a matter of identity and heritage: "This is where we are from, where our ancestors are buried. No matter what, we want to go back and feel at home." However positive their sprites are, the challenges of displacement seem unsurmountable, they say. The family left Bakhmut with just bare essentials, employment opportunities are scarce and the family relies on the support of organizations like IOM to cover their basic needs.
IOM, with the support of European Commission Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection, has provided the collective centre, where Nina and her family live, with essential appliances, such as washing machines and refrigerators, as well as conducted minor repairs to improve the living conditions of the residents. Such support offers a glimmer of security and a sense of normalcy for families like theirs.
Written by Anna Tsybko.