Ukrainian families find hope again thanks to cash assistance
Anatasia and her four children fled their home in eastern Ukraine and are starting over in Lviv thanks to the help of UNICEF and partners
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The railway station in Pokrovsk, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, is crowded but quiet. Several hundred passengers, mostly the elderly, women with children and people with disabilities are waiting for a train that will take them to a safer place.
All of them are waiting expectantly for the train to arrive, clutching bags, suitcases and their pets. Some people are crying, some are saying goodbye to relatives and others are lost in their thoughts about home and the uncertainty that lies ahead.
Anastasia tries to hold back tears, as she waits with her four children on the platform.
“The shelling intensified in our city. I was afraid for my children and their lives. So we decided to evacuate and save ourselves. But we do not even know where we are going, it's completely uncertain, but at least we will be accepted there. This train is going to Lviv, so we will look for housing there.”
Since February 24, the free train ‘Pokrovsk-Lviv’ has carried over 10,000 forcibly displaced people to safety. Around 300-400 people board each train, with the majority being families with multiple children from frontline areas. Rescuers from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine help people from the hotspots of the Donetsk region to reach the train, picking them up on buses from cities such as Avdiivka, Toretsk and Bahmut.
“The war has seriously affected our lives”
Anastasia holds three-year-old Milana tightly. Her two other daughters, 11-year-old Polina and 10-year-old Anya, grasp the hands of their older brother Dima. Earlier today, the family had three tasks – to clean the house, pack their suitcases and say goodbye to their pets.
"My cat Yuzik is fluffy and has big green eyes,” says Polina, sadly. “He's so cute. I'm worried about him because he can easily go to strangers. But I had to leave him because we have no idea where we were going and whether he could live with us.”
Anastasia had been postponing the decision to flee since the full-scale war broke out in February. It was not until the fragments of a missile rained down on their yard that Anastasia realised she had little choice.
"My children had been asking me to leave since the first day of the war,” she says. “But at first, I was afraid that we would be left without our home. But then I realised that the house is not that important when the lives of my children are not protected.”
In their hurry, all the family packed was warm clothes and food. Each of the girls carried a small backpack and took one of their favourite toys.
"We chose this way of evacuation because the train is free,” says Anastasia. “The war has seriously affected our lives and we do not have a stable income.”
“I will be able to sleep calmly there”
After boarding the train, Anya and Milana try to find seats by the windows.
"I have never been to Lviv but mom says that there is no shelling in that city, so I will be able to sleep calmly there," says Polina, hopefully. "The other day I fell asleep in the afternoon, and when I woke up, I could not understand whether it was day or night, whether it was today or tomorrow.”
For the last six months, the children have not gone anywhere alone and, since the beginning of autumn, have been afraid to even leave the house.
"We stayed at home all day because of the missiles,” says Polina. “The other day I went outside and immediately saw a plane flying, and I got scared.”
Little Milana nods in agreement. "I got scared too and ran away," she says.
Anastasia has applied for financial assistance from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as part of the Spilno programme. She hopes that the 30,000 UAH that she will receive as part of UNICEF's assistance will help her family to pay rent and settle in Lviv.
"First, we are going to temporarily live in a shelter,” she says. “Volunteers gave us its address. But we can stay there just for a few nights and then we will need to look for another place. This is a lot of money, and we don't have it. So I am looking forward to the help from UNICEF.”
Gazing out of the window of the train as it departs, Anastasia squeezes Milana’s hand.
"I had to leave everything, my work and my house to protect my children,” she says. “The only thing left is to hope for the best.”
As of November 2022, UNICEF has provided financial assistance to almost 200,000 families in Ukraine. These are families raising three or more children or a child with disabilities. Most families spend the money received on necessities, such as clothes and food for children, medicines and rent. This assistance provides crucial support for parents while they search for a job in a new place.