Moving forward as a Ukrainian refugee in Moldova – Tetiana's story
Shortly after the war began, Tetiana fled the city of Mykolaiv where she lived with her husband and young son, Bogdan.
Tetiana and Bogdan made an extremely perilous journey with her sister, nephew and friend to reach safety in Moldova. The journey took a toll on Tetiana’s mental health, but with the aid of mental health and psychosocial support services, she is making plans and feels more hopeful.
“My experiences have made me much older than my actual age,” she said. “I am full of years.”
25-year-old Tetiana and her 5-year-old son, Bogdan, have been living in Moldova since 7 March 2022 when they fled intense bombing in their home city of Mykolaiv, Ukraine. A food scientist by training, Tetiana was forced to leave the comfortable home she shared with her husband to seek safety for herself and child.
“I thought it was nonsense when people started buying tinned food and candles to make preparations for life under siege,” she said. “It’s the 21st century. I thought there was no way we would see war in Europe again.”
“On the morning of 24 February 2022, we were woken at 5 a.m. by the sound of bombing. Our home is close to a military camp, so we were used to the sound of weapons. It was still dark, but when I checked my phone, I saw that the bombing was happening all over Ukraine.”
The family soon realized that the location of their home, between the strategically important Varvarovsky Bridge and the military facility, meant that they were very vulnerable to attack. Sheltering to keep safe in a neighbour’s cellar during the night and sleeping in damp conditions soon impacted Bogdan’s health and he developed a bad cough.
“On the 7th of March the bombing was particularly intense in our neighbourhood. We could hear the missiles very clearly. My husband told me that the most important thing to him was knowing that Bogdan and I were safe, and we should leave Ukraine. I couldn’t get proper treatment for Bogdan’s cough, and I could see how terrified he was from the bombing. Each night in the cellar I brought a bag, which contained some clothes, our identity documents and essentials, in case our home was destroyed.”
“We decided to go to Moldova because my father comes from there and it was the closest border crossing. We were travelling with my sister, my nephew, my friend and her daughter. The journey was expensive as everyone was trying to leave at the same time because of the intensity of the bombing.”
“The journey was extremely dangerous. Mykolaiv is situated on the River Bug, and the only way to get to Odessa is across the Varvarovsky drawbridge. The air raid sirens started as we were on our way to the bridge, but the police were turning vehicles back because the drawbridge was up and we couldn’t cross. The bus was unable to turn back due to the amount of traffic and we were stuck for 4 hours with the bombs going over our heads but unable to shelter. It was the worst experience of my entire life.”
“Eventually the air raids stopped and we were able to continue. The border with Moldova is only 100 km away, but it took us 12 hours to drive there. We were exhausted when we arrived, but the Moldovan volunteers welcomed us so warmly.”
The women and children were able to stay with the sister of Tetiana’s father for the first few weeks. However, Tetiana was anxious not to outstay her welcome.
Tetiana, her sister, friend and the children were found a place to live in a former school dormitory, which is supported by the Moldovan government. At first, Tetiana struggled to process her experience.
“At the start I was suffering from depression. It was extremely painful for us to hear about what was happening in Ukraine. I felt guilty that I was safe and that my family and friends were having to live through the bombing and the war. Several of my school friends were enlisted in the army and have been killed. My mother’s village was occupied and we weren’t able to communicate with her, so we didn’t know whether she was alive and I was terrified about whether something had happened to her or my grandfather.”
“I knew that I had made the right decision to leave for Bogdan, and that we were safe and warm in Moldova. But I was struggling a lot.”
“I am quite a reserved person, and it’s difficult for me to open my heart and soul to someone who is a stranger to me. But there is a group, Petrinka, which visits us every Sunday. The children make crafts with a volunteer, and we speak to the psychologists in the group. At the start it was very difficult for me to speak to them, but the psychologists were very patient when it was difficult to speak about certain subjects.”
“I’ve grown to trust them, and now our conversations are more like a friendly chat. They’ve helped me to work on my personal development. My life in Ukraine was so busy, I didn’t really take time for myself. I was afraid to take chances or try things which were outside my comfort zone. They’ve helped me to realize that I have to move forward.”
“We feel very welcome in the local community. Moldovans are very kind people, even though they have their own challenges.”
“I can see that Bogdan is really settled here. He’s attending kindergarten and he’s made friends. We’re both learning to speak Romanian. I’ve got a cleaning job which means that I have some money to buy what we need. I’m taking some courses in beauty therapy, which I hope to be able to practice when I eventually return to my motherland. My mum has managed to join us in Moldova, which is a huge relief. Things are difficult for my husband, but we speak as often as we can, which is sometimes a challenge because of the lack of electricity.”
“My hope for the future is for peace in Ukraine and that I will be able to return to my country. I know that things won’t be the same as before. But in the meantime, I’m learning to live in the moment, and I know that by confronting my fears and trying new things I can move forward.”