Ukrainian mother: “Every child is our child”

War turned this journalist and mother of one into a refugee mother of three. Crossing the border into Romania, they find support to lean on.

Roxana Grămadă
Olena and her three daughters in front of a Blue Dot hub
18 April 2022

ROMANIA, Sighetu Marmației, 13 March 2022 - When her husband told her to pack immediately, Olena saw how easy it was to lose everything: the comfort of her home in the centre of Kropyvnytskyi, her job as a journalist, her family.

“Everything that was important before now is just things, just clothes. Nothing is more important than taking the babies and leaving [with] nothing else,” says Olena, who is on the road with her six-year-old daughter Afina and two of her husband's children, Sasha, who is 20, and Eva, also six. She promised to look after them.

The group of four left their home in a panic after the airport in their town was shelled. They stayed with friends, hoping to return home. Scared by the sound of sirens, Afina and Eva learned to go inside and hide on cue. The shelling did not stop and when friends said there was a car leaving in an hour, they jumped on the impromptu opportunity.

The fighting intensified behind them, and Olena prays for all those who stayed: her Russian mother and her Ukrainian father, her husband, her friends. The girls asked why they were leaving. They also ask to speak to their fathers and grandparents every day.

After a day and a half on the road, Olena and her daughters entered Romania at the Sighetu Marmatiei border crossing. On the bridge over the border, she saw toys lined up for children to pick up and teared up. “I couldn't believe that, says Olena, touched by the generosity of the Romanian volunteers. “That everybody can help us. In Ukraine we just see everybody fighting,” says Olena.

She also says she was helped in the UNICEF-supported Blue Dot, just past the frontier point, where they registered, received travel information, scheduled a ride to the train station, and rested in the Mother and Child tent. Afina and Eva drew pictures of rainy skies and starry-eyed kittens like those they left home.

“I had a toy, a rabbit, ’Rostyk,’” says Eva. “Don’t know where he is. We packed in a rush, to fly to my mum, I left him. So, no toys in my backpack. Then I got a little dragonfly, my new friend.”

 Six-year-old stepsisters Eva (left) and Afina (right) display their paintings at the UNICEF-supported Blue Dot centre
On 13 March, six-year-old stepsisters Eva (left) and Afina (right) display their paintings at the UNICEF-supported Blue Dot centre at Sighetu Marmatiei border in Romania after crossing from Ukraine.

Sasha is a student in ecology at the Odessa National Academy of Technology. Before the war broke out, she was preparing for her diploma exams. Still in shock from the separation from her family and from news of friends who lost siblings under the rubble of their homes, Sasha has had little time to think about much beyond staying alive. Luckily, she can lean on Olena.

“We’re thinking we're going somewhere for some time and [when] everything finished, we come back [and] we will help to build our country again,” Sasha says. “We just want this to stop. Every word, every interview, every photo, every video can [help it] stop.”

The family are headed to Turkey, where a friend offered help. She hopes to find work there. The money will come in handy now that everyone else in the family has lost their jobs.

When conflict pushes children out of their homes, they face many dangers besides injury or death, such as going without essential medical care, clean water, and food, being trafficked or forced into child labor. The Blue Dot ensures that children, particularly the most vulnerable, are monitored, protected, and safe during every step of their travels.

UNICEF is working with partners to establish a network of Blue Dots across migration routes for mothers and children, to provide key services and help ensure their safety all throughout the region.

The Blue Dot in Sighetu Marmatiei was the first one of several opened in Romania, in close partnership with the Ministry of Family and Youth through The National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, The General Directorate for Child Protection, the County Council of Maramures, and many other regional and local authorities and NGOs.

Authorities and volunteers from the following organizations offer 24/7 support including from: The Prefecture of Maramures, The City of Sighetu Marmatiei, at least 210 volunteers from over 15 nongovernmental organizations, Red Cross, Maltez, The Orthodox Church of Romania, The Orthodox Diocese of Maramures, The Ukrainian Diocese, The Ukrainian Deanery, neo protestant churches and the Jewish community in Romania.