After fleeing Mariupol, adoptive family find strength together
Oksana and her nine adopted children are facing a cold winter ahead far from home.
Oksana knows how important it is for children to grow up in a safe and secure home. More than a year ago, she and her husband decided to take in nine children from troubled families, determined to give them a better start in life. Before long, everyone from four-year-old Yana to 15-year-old Lionel had started calling Oksana ‘mom’.
Then, in February of this year, the full-scale war broke out in Ukraine. The family fled Mariupol with just the bare essentials, before later returning to start over in the village of Uhryniv near Ivano-Frankivsk. Now, like millions of other families in Ukraine, they face a cold winter ahead, far from home, with little money for rent, heating and food.
As the violence continues and temperatures plummet, the stability and brighter future that Oksana fought so hard to shape for the children hangs by a thread.
"Just the day before the war broke out, my children and I were preparing for tests at school and living a normal life,” she says, sadly. “But in the morning, we had to pack and flee towards uncertainty. Mariupol remains in my memory as deserted, quiet, and very calm.”
Terrified, she told the children that they were going on a trip.
"Children see and feel the mood of their parents, so I had to pull myself together and not panic. It was a huge task for ourselves that we weren't prepared for.”
The family feels much safer in the Ivano-Frankivska region. Here, the children can attend school and the neighbours help out where they can.
However, it is hard to shake the past.
“The war has forced us to start everything anew,” says Oksana. “I will never forget us sleeping with children on mattresses under tables when we were terrified of shelling.”
Due to the cold and lack of heating, the children often get sick.
"We have already got used to air raids and threats of shelling,” she says. “We can deal with everything. We have to continue living.”
Despite the ongoing war, Oksana and her children are determined to move forward with their lives. They have even adopted a new member – a Yorkshire terrier puppy called Nika.
"We decided to take care of this dog a few months ago when we came to the Ivano-Frankivska region,” says Oksana, smiling. “Nika is like an anti-stress for us, the kids enjoy playing with her.”