Olena and her son feel Romania belongs to another world

The young mother says she will need a few days to understand that in Romania there are no explosions or rockets flying over their heads.

Olena si Demian
UNICEF / Ioana Moldovan
13 April 2022

Olena is a TV editor at a television in Kyiv, but lately she had to learn the "two walls" rule. This means there should be two walls between the place where a bomb falls and the one where you shelter, because the first wall will be taken down by the force of the explosion, and the second one will stop the broken glass and debris from hurting you. This rule has saved her life when the capital of Ukraine was the target of intense bombings. 

After she has slept in the bathroom for one month, in the sound of gunfire and explosions, Olena took her 4-year-old son Demian and fled to Romania. A two-day ride by train. The first thing that caught her attention when she arrived in Romania was the peace from our country. And the fact that Demian received toys as soon as he got off the ferry, they had crossed the Danube with. 

"I think we will need a few days to recover. To stabilize our morale and emotional state, to understand that there are no explosions or rockets flying over our heads. We have crossed the border and there is peace here!”, Olena says. 

On the first day of April, Olena entered Romania by ferry through the Orlivka-Isaccea border crossing. This is one of the main border cross points where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees entered Romania since the beginning of the war. It is also one of the most dangerous ones, because Odessa region in the southern Ukraine is heavily bombed. 

Before the war started in Ukraine, an average of 500 people a week used to cross the Danube by ferry at Isaccea. In the last weeks, more than 800 have crossed the river within just one means of transport. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians, especially women with children, are waiting for hours in the neighbouring country, to board the ferry that brings them to Romania. Because here "you feel like it's another world," Demian's mother says. 

"No one knows what is really going on there. All we heard in Kyiv were shootings and explosions." 

Demian from Kyiv playing in the safe space for children
4-year old Demian, from Kyiv playing in the safe space for children created by Unicef at the Isaccea border. Demian and his mother, Olena, an actress back in Kyiv, crossed the border into Romania at Isaccea on March 31st, 2022.

The fatigue of the long and risky journey, as well as of the last weeks under the siege of fear and worries speaks for itself. During the two-day trip by train, Olena says that she couldn't even go to the toilet, because she was alone and had to constantly watch over Demian. The child slept for only two hours, but she didn't sleep at all. And Olena's journey does not stop here. She is waiting for a bus that, if she could find a seat, will take her to Bulgaria, where she would be waiting for the war to end, so that she could return home. Until then, she would like to lie down in a bed for at least few hours, in one of the tents set up for the refugees at the border. 

"Whatever they say about the withdrawal of the troops, no one knows what is really going on there. All we heard in Kyiv was the sound of shootings. Shootings, explosions, rattling windows. We couldn't sleep in our beds, in the soft, warm sheets. We had to spend the nights in the bathroom, in order to follow the rule of the two walls", Olena says, thinking about her last days at home. 

In the Blue Dot center set up by UNICEF in Isaccea, Demian lays on the colorful puzzle-shaped carpet and explores the toys around him, with his mother watching over him. He is exhausted and the long trip agitated him. Playing with toys in a safe environment is the best way to waste his energy and face his emotions. 

"The trip was too long for him. The child is sleepless and agitated. Now, he's having fun at the playground. Thank you for setting up this place here! Now, he can waste the energy and handle the emotions accumulated. The journey was a static activity, and I had to keep an eye on him: “Wait, please! We have to cross the border! We must be calm and quiet! Stay next to me all the time!” A mother is always worried. Now, if we manage to get a seat on the bus, he will definitely fall asleep”, the woman explains. 

"I was very impressed by the people! And that's really wonderful!” 

Olena, an actress from Kyiv is playing with her 4-year old son, Demian
Olena, an actress from Kyiv is playing with her 4-year old son, Demian, blowing soap balloons, in the safe space for children created by Unicef at the Isaccea border. They crossed the border into Romania at Isaccea on March 31st, 2022.

When entering Romania, Olena was impressed with all the gestures people made in order to help them relax a little, after all the stress and tension accumulated in the past month. 

"I was very impressed by the people here! Sincerely! In Kyiv, the only things we saw and heard were bombings and artillery fire. We were under a lot of stress and panic. (…) One of the most important moments was when we crossed the border. Here is Ukraine, in a few minutes we’re in Romania. On our arrival, as soon as we’ve climbed the ramp of the ferry, the children - especially the little ones, were already given toys! Now, seriously! I was walking with tears in my eyes, because it is such an emotional gesture! Then, I realized I needed another bottle of water, because we are two of us. There you have it! People gave me a bottle of water. They explain everything you need to know, they show you everything! All these things are so emotional, and I can't talk without crying!”, the woman says, overwhelmed by emotions. 

At the Romanian border, Olena received water, food, fruits and all the necessary things. She refused some of them, because she didn't want to receive things she already had, that someone else might need. 

"It's hard to believe when someone tells you about all these things, but when you go through this alone, with no support, and see all these people helping you… They simply take you by the hand and offer you this, this, this, and this ... “Please, help yourself, don't be embarrassed!”, they say. We are common sense people, and we try not to abuse. We didn’t need soap or toilet paper, so I refused. Maybe someone else needs it!", Olena explains. 

"We don’t want to go far away, because we will return the moment, we are told that Ukraine has won!" 

She left Ukraine thinking that she would return as soon as the war was over. Therefore, she does not go too far, so that she could return quickly: “The moment they tell us that everything is over, and Ukraine has won, we will return! That’s why we don’t want to go too far. There is also this possibility, but we don't want to".

But she also makes long-term plans, because, she says, when you are alone with a little child, "you encourage yourself as much as possible, you regroup your strength, you take the situation in your hands, because the child feels if the mother is restless". Firstly, in Bulgaria, she will find a kindergarten for Demian, because he has to integrate into the community. Then, if the war continues, she will also find a job for herself, "so I don't lose my mind!" .

Olena is just one of millions of Ukrainian mothers, forced by a war they didn’t cause to leave everything behind and go to neighboring countries, to protect their children. Because it’s the children who give them the strength to endure sleepless nights in a row, to go where instinct tells them they will be safe, and to glimpse the light beyond bombings and explosions. And now, more than ever, they think how to rebuild the future of their children, on their homeland.