• Anna Tsybko | National Communications Officer

Dnipro — The war in Ukraine has left countless people displaced, their lives upended by the violence and turmoil that has gripped the country. Among these displaced individuals are Vira and Oleksandr, two Ukrainians who, despite facing unimaginable challenges, remain hopeful as they rebuild their lives in displacement. 

"I lived in Kherson, under Russian military control, for 11 unbearable months. But even after Kherson returned under Ukrainian control, I had to leave my hometown because of the constant shelling," recounts Vira, who relocated to Dnipro from Kherson in January 2023. The journey was fraught with hardship, she couldn’t take many belongings with her, and upon arrival, Vira found herself with only winter clothes and a handful of items. 

Vira, displaced from Kherson. Photo: Anastasia Rudnieva/IOM Ukraine

Before the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Vira led a quiet life as a retiree. She had previously served as the head of the cotton production department at the city’s factory. Vira shared with IOM the distressing and profound impact that living in Kherson while it was under Russian military control had on her. Her personal story is not being shared as a protective measure to safeguard her well-being. 

Currently residing in a dormitory, she has taken on a cleaning job at a shopping mall in order to sustain herself financially. However, her pay is insufficient, and Vira is in need of humanitarian assistance. As part of protection case management services, Vira received clothes and shoes that she needed, as well as food products and hygiene items.

"I believe that I will definitely return home. In the meantime, we have to build our lives here and hope for the best. It is much easier when you know that you will be helped and supported," says Vira.

IOM Ukraine Protection Programme supports people who experienced incidents such as attacks on civilians, torture or cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment or punishment. These may include men, women, older persons, persons with disabilities, internally displaced people (particularly but not limited to those displaced more than once), returnees, unaccompanied and separated children, as well as survivors or human trafficking, exploitation and conflict-related violence. In January-November 2023, IOM and partner NGOs provided individual tailored assistance to 6,473 people with the above protection needs (75% women, 25% men). 

Oleksandr, displaced from Rubizhne, Luhansk region. Photo: Anastasia Rudnieva/IOM Ukraine

Oleksandr's story is similar to Vira’s.  He and his father endured a month under constant shelling in Rubizhne, Luhansk region. Their house was damaged by shrapnel, with windows blown out by a blast wave, leaving the house cold and barely habitable. Convinced that evacuation was necessary, Oleksandr, 59, faced the difficulty of convincing his 80-year-old father to seek safety and leave their hometown: 

“It's very difficult to convince people of that age to evacuate. I managed to do it only when our house was hit directly. At that time, only five houses remained on our street.” 

Their journey to Dnipro was arduous, with an organized evacuation from Rubizhne being impossible due to escalating danger. Oleksandr's father, succumbing to the stress, passed away only two weeks after reaching safety in Dnipro. Alone in a strange city, Oleksandr faced a period of isolation and despair: 

“Due to the immense stress my father endured, he survived only two weeks after our arrival here. I laid him to rest in Dnipro. I was left completely alone in an entirely unfamiliar city. For a month or two, I found myself detached from life. To prevent losing myself entirely, I knew I had to do something.”

Determined to rebuild his life, Oleksandr actively sought employment, accepting any opportunity that came his way, mostly odd low-paying labour jobs. Like many other uprooted and displaced people, Oleksandr is still in need of humanitarian aid. IOM provided Oleksandr with essential items ahead of the winter season, including a small refrigerator, bed linens and blankets, hygiene items and thermoses for hot drinks. 

"The main thing is not to give up and keep looking for something good every day. Because no one will live our life for us," says Oleksandr. 

Vira and Oleksandr's stories shed light on the plight of many displaced Ukrainians and the resilience that sustains them. The journey of displacement is far from easy, but determination to overcome the challenges is what helps those who are starting their life anew. IOM’s assistance to Vira and Oleksandr was made possible with the financial support of the European Union. 

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