The war forced these Ukrainian mothers to leave their homes. Now they’re back to helping others evacuate

More … than 6.3 million civilians fled Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion, but after having brought their children to safety, some mothers return to help their Ukrainian compatriots to evacuate.

Kateryna Turkevych, 39, was forced to leave Ukraine soon after the war started. She was desperate to protect her 14-year-old daughter.

“Two weeks into the war, I was psychologically overloaded,” Turkevych told TODAY Parents via a Ukrainian translator. “I decided to leave kyiv for Lviv. Every night we had to go to the air-raid shelter, and I didn’t want my family – my mother and my daughter – to have to spend every night in an air-raid shelter. -air.”

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Turkevych took his mother and daughter to Poland by bus. Approximately 2.9 million Ukrainians fled to neighboring Poland.

“My daughter was sobbing all the time,” Turkevych explained. “She couldn’t stop her tears, and when we got to the refugee center she couldn’t stop crying. We didn’t take much with us, just a small suitcase.”

Ukrainian evacuees arrive in Poland.Courtesy of Operation White Stork

Once safely in Poland, Turkevych knew she had to do something to help her fellow Ukrainians. She found and decided to volunteer for UkraineFriends.orga group of veterans and Ukrainians participating in the evacuation and humanitarian efforts.

the operation in partnership with Airbnb to provide free housing to people forced from their homes by war, as well as Operation White Stork and Medical Supplies of America to provide humanitarian and medical aid to Ukrainian citizens who remained behind.

The same bus company that transported Turkevych and his family to safety would also eventually join the group.

“They are Wonder Women”

Oxana Zayac-Kryviak, a former teacher and mother of six children aged 2 to 14, was alone with her children when Russia invaded Ukraine. Her husband was in Poland for work.

When the first bombs fell, Zayac-Kryviak’s husband begged her to leave their house in kyiv, but Zayac-Kryviak was afraid.

Eventually, she evacuated her six children and brought them to safety in western Ukraine.

“For me, it was always a combination of this fear on the one hand and this idea that I can do something here. I can do something to help other people,” Zayac-Kryviak told TODAY. “And as you see, so far we are here.”

These Ukrainians were safely evacuated from the war zone.
These Ukrainians were safely evacuated from the war zone.Courtesy of Operation White Stork

Zayac-Kryviak’s husband also returned to Ukraine and immediately joined the country’s territorial defense unit. She says the innate desire to help others runs in her family.

“Together with our older children, we have always been busy doing something useful,” Zayac-Kryviak said. “We were making nets that our army could use and we were involved in humanitarian aid and various charities. And I am very grateful to Friends of Ukraine, because this work gives me the opportunity to financially support my family.”

Zayac-Kryviak worked with Turkevych and 20 others to provide evacuation and humanitarian aid. Zayac-Kryviak is a bus coordinator, while Turkevych is the main evacuation coordinator. The two mums worked around the clock on rescue missions and supply runs, providing citizens with food, water, diapers, medicine and clothing.

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To date, the team has safely evacuated more than 10,000 people and more than 5,000 evacuees have received Airbnb housing, according to Roman Vinfield and Michael Sinensky, co-founders of UkraineFriends.org.

Also, they say the team has donated more than 10,000 medical kits. They currently operate from Lviv.

Ukrainian citizens board one of the Operation White Stork and Ukraine Friends buses, evacuating war-torn Ukraine.
Ukrainian citizens board one of the Operation White Stork and Ukraine Friends buses, evacuating war-torn Ukraine.Courtesy of Operation White Stork
Inside an evacuation bus.
Inside an evacuation bus. Courtesy of Operation White Stork

“In our big team, not everyone is from Lviv – some are actually refugees who fled their homes,” Turkevych explained. “And those who are refugees were recruited for our project not so long ago. My idea was to give a voice to people who had been with us since the very beginning of the war.”

A mother’s touch

Khrystyna Romanuk, 29, is the mother of a 6-year-old daughter and a bus coordinator who works with Turkevych and Zayac-Kryviak. She also fled her home in Ukraine after Russia invaded her country. She has since remained in Lviv to coordinate and direct bus evacuation operations.

She says that as the gunfire and shelling has intensified in the east, so have the mental health ramifications of the war. The people she’s evacuating now, she says, aren’t fleeing a hypothetical war zone they saw it and lived it.

Not only do mothers provide evacuation and humanitarian services, but they have become de facto mental health workers.

“People who get on the buses feel depressed,” Romanuk explained. “They’ve been through a lot of trauma and they don’t know where they’re going. They’re leaving their homeland. They’re leaving their homes behind. They’re living behind their loved ones, their family members, and it’s very, very hard for them. them.”

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Romanuk says she had an evacuated teenager who “physically couldn’t cross the border” because she realized she would be leaving her grandparents behind. They had another person who fled Mariupol after spending 25 days in a basement.

“People are psychologically traumatized. Very often their emotions are dampened when they get on the bus,” Romanuk added. “We had a boy who when crossing the border was not able to pronounce his name correctly. Evacuations take seven, sometimes nine hours, and during that time we are able to bring a psychological support for people. at least to give them hope.”

The youngest evacuee on the team to date was 10 days old.

A photo of the youngest evacuee in the group, who was only 10 days old.
A photo of the youngest evacuee in the group, who was only 10 days old.Courtesy of Operation White Stork
Another successful evacuation operation.
Another successful evacuation operation. Courtesy of Operation White Stork

The three women say their experience as mothers makes them the best people to care for evacuees, the majority of whom are mothers themselves. In times of trauma and anxiety, they said, the mothers they evacuate also need to be mothered.

“Being a mom helped me understand them better,” Turkevych said. “I watch them and remember what my daughter looked like when she was 1, 2 and 3. You can’t really explain to a young child or make a child understand what’s going on. A lot of times they’re really stressed because they don’t We don’t understand why this is happening to them, so we try to put ourselves in their shoes and do everything we can to at least provide them with some comfort.

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Zayac-Kryviak agreed, adding that even the fact that she gave birth not so long ago gave her a better understanding of what a mother who gave birth just 10 days before the evacuation would feel when she is postpartum and leaves her house.

“I understand what women must be thinking and feeling,” she said. “Maybe they don’t have time to fully rehabilitate and they’re still under the impact of the stress of childbirth, they’re in pain and they still have to go through such a process. journey. Sometimes we inspire them and help them in some way, and we don’t even realize the impact we can have on them.”

A little girl poses for a photo.  She was safely evacuated with her family.
A little girl poses for a photo. She was safely evacuated with her family.Courtesy of Operation White Stork

Vinfield, the co-founder of UkraineFriends.orgsays he is constantly inspired by the work that the three women do.

“They’re Wonder Women,” Vinfield told TODAY. “When you’re in this place, day after day the record is extraordinary. Caregivers in general have some of the shortest lifespans due to stress. I can’t even imagine the kind of stress they’re under, the pressure they’re under, and they deserve all the credit. They are incredible, incredible women.”

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