Yulia, the Ukrainian mother who saved her daughter from the war days before her first birthday party
Now, everything Yulia wants is peace in the entire world, so children never have to hear the sound of explosions.
In the last days of February, in the city of Kherson, Yulia was organizing her daughter's first birthday party. She had already ordered the cake and was looking forward to the 5th of March to celebrate Emily's first birthday with balloons and confetti. But, during those days, instead of the sound of balloons exploding at a family party, Yulia could hear in her house only the bombs exploding in the airport nearby. She took her child and fled to Romania. She left behind her brother, who is a soldier fighting for the liberation of Ukraine, her grandparents, two dogs and a cat. Yulia arrived at Isaccea Customs on February 27th.
Kherson is a city in southern Ukraine, a port on the Black Sea, with almost 300,000 inhabitants for whom the struggle for survival began in the first days of spring. As for millions of other Ukrainians, whose lives suddenly changed 180 degrees on the night of February 24th.
Most of the women went to the nearest border crossing points to protect their children in the neighboring countries. Most of the men remained to fight for their country. The elderly, for whom transport to the border would have been difficult and risky, stayed in the city to take care of what was left after the bombings: the homes of the neighbors who had left and the pets that had lost their owners.
We met Yulia, 35, at Isaccea Customs, hugging her baby. It was risky to travel more than 350 kilometers between Kherson, the city where she lived, and the border crossing point on the Danube, on blocked roads, controlled by armed soldiers. But Yulia took that risk and says she came to Romania because she doesn't want her daughter to remember the sound of the bombs.
"Her first birthday was with explosions from bombs, not from balloons, and with cakes that I had already ordered for the party that never took place. Nobody knows what war is like, what explosions sound like. My baby doesn't understand, she probably won't remember. But I will!”, Yulia says, exhausted after a long and dangerous ride.
She bites her lips trying not to cry and apologizes several times because she cannot control her emotions. She says she’s heartbroken. With tears in her eyes, Yulia tells us about her brother who is fighting in the war, and she doesn't know if she would ever see him again, about her grandparents who have stayed at home, because the ride to the border would have been too risky for them, about the two dogs and the cat she had to leave behind. A trace of hope lights up her face when she says that people have promised to take care of them.
"I left my home, I left my country, I don't know where I'm going, but I have to do it for my daughter. In Kherson, I lived near the airport, and there were heavy bombings every night. I took the risk and left", the woman says.
The cakes that Yulia had ordered for Emily never reached their destination, and her daughter's one-year birthday party never took place. But this matters less in the new context. All that she wants now is peace in the entire world for children to never know how explosions sound like. And most of all, she wants peace in Ukraine. A liberated Ukraine to return to and to rebuild for her daughter and for all the children who were forced by war to leave their homeland. "She is Ukrainian, and I want her to remain Ukrainian."
From Romania, she is leaving for Poland, where she will stay until the war is over and she can return home. "I want this war to end and people to return to their homes. I want to return to our homeland and rebuild it. I hope that our country will rise again", Yulia says.
She is overwhelmed by the kindness and support the Romanians greeted her and the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who have crossed the border into Romania in the past weeks. She is grateful for the sandwiches and for all the support from UNICEF, but also for local people who have come to the border to give them all they needed.
The latest available data show that more than 600,000 Ukrainians have entered Romania since February 24th, mostly women with children. Because of the war, more than four million refugees arrived in neighboring countries, including the Czech Republic, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary. Half of them are children. In terms of the speed and magnitude of the phenomenon, this current refugee crisis in Europe is unprecedented since World War II.
UNICEF is working together with the Romanian Government, local authorities, and civil society organizations to set up Blue Dot centers at all border crossings with Ukraine and other locations in Romania, considering the flow of children affected by the war. Dozens of Blue Dot centers will be set up soon in collaboration with UNICEF partners. The aim is to ensure that children's rights are respected and all of them have access to Blue Dot services, where they can be monitored and protected.
The Blue Dots include child-friendly spaces offering integrated services for family reunification and restoring family links, information and counselling desks, registration of the most vulnerable, spaces dedicated to mothers and babies/young children, psychological therapy and first aid on hygiene, health, and nutrition.