Nine-year-old Yaroslav from Ukraine came to the Romanian capital Bucharest with his mother Larysa and his four-year-old sister Sophie just after the outbreak of the war. They live here in a shelter together with about 20 other Ukrainian children (most of whom have no parents) and two teachers, one of whom is Larysa. Yaroslav and Larysa tell us what their lives look like now and what the activities Terre des Hommes has set up together with partners mean to them.
Yaroslav is shy at first, but talks about himself with increasing confidence: “I am from Ukraine. I prefer to play with Legoso. But my question to the world is: do you know what is going on in Ukraine?”
His mother Larysa (36 years old) says: “When the war in Ukraine started, another teacher called me to ask if I wanted to move from Odessa to a safe place abroad, with several children. These are mainly children who have been placed out of their home and live in a residential group, children who have little or no contact with their parents. That evening I discussed it with my husband and the next day I decided to go, together with our own children. We had two weeks to prepare for departure. I didn't know what to expect, where we were going. I also did not realise that it would be such a big responsibility with so many children.”
Larysa sighs, and it becomes clear that a lot is on her shoulders. “In the end it became clear that we were going to Romania. Because I grew up in the border area of Ukraine with Romania, I speak both languages fluently.”
Larysa talks about what her life was like before the war broke out: “I found my life complicated. I was always in a hurry, with two small children, a job as a teacher and I did all the household chores like cleaning, dropping off and picking up kids from school, cooking. I now realise that I really appreciate this routine and that I would love to go back to that life.” Larysa gets emotional when she tells this, and some kids come up and give her a hug. It is clear that it is difficult for her to talk about her "old" life.
“My way of coping with the stress is with the kids. In difficult times I have my children and I am very grateful for that and also that we are now in a safe environment. We have shelter, food and medicines, and I know other refugees have much less. We have everything here for a reasonable life.”
A special project that Terre des Hommes has set up in Bucharest together with partner organisation Hope and Homes is the photo project 'Children Telling Stories'. This project came about with the help of Giro555 and aims to motivate children in a creative way to capture their memories of Ukraine in images. Throughout the process, they were able to talk to care providers about what this was doing to them. Their favourite photos, printed large with a personal story, can be seen at the exhibition in Hotel Marmorosch in Bucharest. It was officially opened on February 23, and children participating in the project walked around happy and proud, now that their photo and story were in the spotlight.
Yaroslav likes to explain the project: “When my mother told me about the photography project, I felt very important and grown up. That I was invited for such a serious project! I told it right away in my online class the next day. They all thought it was fantastic and wished me luck. That made me so proud.”
“I took a lot of beautiful pictures. For example, from the metro in Bucharest, because I had never been on the metro before. And pictures of the blue sky, because it reminded me of Ukraine when there was still peace. But I just had to choose this photo with the map of Ukraine. For me it is the symbol of the Ukraine I want to return to.”
Larysa talks about how her children feel here: “One of my worries when I left Ukraine was how my children would cope in Romania and whether they would miss their father. But everything went smoothly and when they call their father, they reassure him. In Ukraine, we worked very hard to save money to buy a house and never took a vacation. Now the children enjoy the days we spent in the mountains and by the sea. We all make regular trips to the Romanian nature. Their father joked, “I bet you don't want to go back home,” but the kids say, “Whatever we have here, we would go straight back to Ukraine if it were possible.” Larysa smiles, “It's good that there is also humour”.
In addition to the activities that Terre des Hommes organises through their partner Hope and Homes, all kinds of therapy are also offered to the children. Larysa: “When we came here, we had the label of refugees and we had the feeling of being in a prison. But the trips gave us a sense of confidence, the pleasure of discovering a new city. The activities were an invitation to regain and experience the freedom we had in Ukraine.”
Larysa says that the creative therapy workshops and the psychosocial guidance are much appreciated by the children: “I have seen a lot of progress in the children after following these workshops. They have become stronger because someone told them 'you are talented' or 'you are creative' and they developed a better self-esteem. They also started talking to the psychologists about other traumas that are more difficult than the war, such as why they were abandoned by their parents. It is good and important that Terre des Hommes makes all this possible.”
Larysa says that the children didn't want to stay at first, they wanted to go home. But after a month they indicated that it was a good decision to go to a safe place. The group was also very diverse in the beginning. “But now we have become a close-knit group, almost a family. We just want to go back to a safe country.”
Finally, Yaroslav would like to say something: “I love all the cities of Ukraine, especially my hometown of Odessa. I want them to be united and the war to end. Then I can take my camera back home and to my dad and take a picture of my favourite park.”