26 Apr 2023
  • Maryna Orekhova | Communications Specialist

Having lived in Kharkiv all her life, owning an apartment, and enjoying her favourite job as a choreographer, Natalia had never thought that she would have to start her life from scratch in another city at the age of 47. The woman with a little son, an adult daughter and a granddaughter had to flee the war with one suitcase, terrible memories and no idea where to go next or how to make a living.

Together with her son Pavlo, Natalia fled from Kharkiv facing the unknown at a new place. Photo: IOM/Maryna Orekhova

The morning explosions on 24 February 2022, weeks of shelling, a car accident on the way to the evacuation train, several hours of waiting at the railway station and a journey in a crowded carriage that took the family to Vinnytsia. As Natalia stepped off the train, she realized that the unknown future lay ahead. Her daughter and granddaughter were accommodated by their friends, while volunteers helped Natalia and her son to find a place to stay. A small room of 8 square metres became their home, but two months later, a landlady returned from abroad and asked them to move out. By the end of summer, the woman and her son were staying in a collective centre in a college dormitory until the school year kicked off. They lacked basic household items, and Natalia's stopped receiving a salary as a leader of a dance group she worked with in Kharkiv, so she had to find a job as soon as possible to rent a new place to live.

"I found a job at a children's education centre, but the money they paid me was barely enough to cover my commute, and they didn't want to officially employ me, so I quit. One of my former students suggested that I could teach stretching online. I didn't even know what stretching was. But I started to look for videos on the Internet and realized that I had actually been doing it all my life, it was just a new trendy name - "stretching". I sent out an advert to my students and their mothers without much hope, but a few responded."

Natalia's skills as choreographer helped to find a new profession as a teacher of stretching. Photo: IOM/Maryna Orekhova

At an event for children of displaced families organized by IOM and its implementing partner “Spring of Hope” Natalia shared her challenges in settling down in Vinnytsia. At first, IOM supported the family by providing a multi-cooker, food, medicines for her son and a blood pressure monitor to help Natalia control her blood pressure, which had started to rise due to the stress she had experienced.  

With funding from the Government of Norway, IOM also helped her to pay for rented housing and supported Natalia's professional development by purchasing necessary sports equipment and uniform, a tablet, a power bank, and a lighting set, which became indispensable during shelling and blackouts.

Recently, Natalia officially got a job as a festival stage producer at the Vinnytsia Regional Centre of Culture. After her main job, she teaches classes at a sports centre and continues her online stretching course from home. 

Teaching stretching has helped Natalia to find a needed balance in her life. Photo: IOM/Maryna Orekhova

On her birthday, at the gym, Natalia meets the IOM protection team who have come to visit her. She says that over the past six months, she has managed to adapt to the new conditions and cope with difficult life circumstances. Her son Pavlo is now going to kindergarten and has new friends. Natalia herself says that while helping her clients keep fit, she also realized that stretching has helped her to stay more flexible in her situation.  

"I want to go home, I have my own things there, while here I have to pay for the apartment every month. Without IOM’s assistance, I wouldn't have managed. Now, I am more or less protected. Thanks to IOM, I have a job and rented housing. I also hope that everything will get better, and the day will come when I can return to Kharkiv."

SDG 1 - No Poverty
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being