Meet the Faces Affected by War: Ukrainian Woman Taking on the Burden of Separation

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Samantha Deras

When discussing war, there is this ongoing sentiment that men sacrifice everything to fight in the front lines for their country. They are dubbed heros; however, in the wake of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, women too are resilient in the midst of war.

The silence and peace of their once beautiful country has now been replaced by airstrikes, sirens, and violence. With the fear of mortality lingering above their heads, more than 1.7 million people have fled the country in a mass exodus that the UN has warned could become “Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century.” 

The war severely impacted social cohesion, community security and the resilience of local communities, especially women and girls. Lack of access to social services including schools and strained community resources have increased the care burden of local women who are responsible for the care for children, disabled, and elderly family members. 

29 year old mother Olga and her three-month-old son are one of the thousands of mothers and children who have fled their homes, having their family separated and torn apart.

“My husband is not allowed to leave, so he said to me: you should save our child,” Olga explained. “He has no military experience, he’s never been to the army, but he’s planning to join the Territorial Defense Forces… I was scared to leave my husband there because I didn’t know if I’d see him again,” she said. “I have this child and he is innocent…so the most important thing was to save him.”

However, children have already become victims of war, with two children being killed in shelling by Russian forces roughly 100 kilometers from Olga’s hometown.

Like other men aged 18 to 60, Olga’s husband heeded government orders to stay put and to be available to fight if needed – a command that has led many women and children to seek safety on their own, tearing families across Ukraine apart.

“We told her she was going on holiday to see her cousins and grandmother,” said Gabriela. “And she asked: will I stop listening to the sirens and will the bombs stop falling?”

Gabriela is a 27 year old Ecuadorian native studying medicine in Ukraine, who had to console her 5 year old daughter as she said goodbye to her father prior to finding refuge in Ecuador. 

“If he dies, how do I explain to my daughter that her father isn’t coming back?” said Gabriela.

Unfortunately seeking safety is not as easy for everyone. Lena, a 34-year-old mother of one left Kharkiv, near the Russian border, last week and traveled for 22 hours before finding refuge inside a small theater turned shelter in Lviv. She doesn’t know what lies ahead for her and her son.

“There is no home, there is nothing – maybe we will go abroad, but we don’t know,” she said.

Being a divorcee and single mother, her son is now the one who wants to take care of her. “He said: mum don’t cry, you’re strong, and I’m going to defend you.”

Since leaving, Lena’s city is now under siege, where her parents and brother are. She has been trying to convince them to leave and find asylum, yet leaving their home and culture is what’s keeping them from doing so. 

For some, this sacrifice was daunting. Yet, there is always light in darkness. Even as gut-wrenching visuals of Ukrainian cities being attacked are being shared everywhere, there are heartwarming gestures of kindness that are scripting their own tales of resistance through peace and affection.

Ukrainian native Nataliya Ableyeva took a journey of a lifetime with two stranger’s kids as she crossed the border from Ukraine to Hungary. Ableyeva had met a 38-year-old man along with his young son and daughter at her hometown of Kamianets-Podilskyi.

“Their father simply handed over the two kids to me, and trusted me, giving me their passports to bring them over.” The children’s mother who was on her way from Italy was set to reunite with the kids at the Hungary border. The kid’s father gave his wife’s number to Ableyeva before bidding them goodbye. 

Finally, after safely leaving Ukraine, Ableyeva met 33-year-old Anna Semyuk who had arrived to get her kids. In heartwarming visuals shared by Reuters, one can see Senyuk meeting her kids and tearfully embracing Ableyeva. 

In the midst of violence and grief, we can still see the power of humanity and kindness, a great reminder for those who may be losing hope. 

As 32 year old mother Natalia says, “We’re trying to make light of every situation, to laugh more. The greatest enemy is fear. It eats away at you. It pits brother against brother.”