Lyudmila, who has fled the war in Ukraine, explains that her husband is in the army back home.
“He was on leave when the war started. In our small village in the south of Ukraine, we didn’t hear the bombs or the sirens that morning. He received a phone call shortly after 5 am. They said his leave is over and he had to report for duty. That’s when I knew the war had started.”
Lyudmila’s older son, 16-year-old Ivan, and her 17-year-old nephew Olehsii were in their dormitory at military secondary school. “My husband told them to pack and leave to the home of our relatives where my younger son and I would meet them. We stayed there for about ten days. It was scary.”
Her relatives had a solid basement equipped with food, water and heating. “But you couldn’t escape the sounds,” she says. “The earth was trembling as if an earthquake struck. Often the car alarms would sound from the shaking.”
“It was awful hearing the sirens sounds, but it was worse when we didn’t hear them and the ground would start shaking. The local church then said they would ring their bells when they’d learn of sirens going off in Odesa to warn people to take shelter. After we heard the church bells ring once, I told my children we have to leave.”
Lyudmila’s sister and brother in law had already died in the war, so she was looking after their children, Ivan and Olehsii. Together, they loaded the car. “We started at 7 am,” Ivan says. “We reached Chișinău at 10 pm.” They stayed in Chișinău overnight, then continued to Romania in Yaşi.
With help from local volunteers, the family was accommodated for two days with a local family in Yaşi. “They had a sick child, yet they took us in. Gave us beds, food, they cared for us. I am eternally grateful to them. But, we saw we couldn’t stay there and asked if they knew anyone who would help us. They put us in contact with Rodica.”
Rodica Marinoiu is the director of the SOS Children’s Villages programme in Bacău. She personally went to pick up several families and accommodate them in the houses of the SOS Children’s Village Hemeiuş near Bacău. “We often come here in the middle of the night. I show them their rooms, the kitchen, living room area, tell them they have food and all they need to do is relax and breathe. Then tell me what else they need in the morning. They repeat how grateful they are, and I tell them this is the least we can do. It’s our obligation as people and as an organisation to help,” Rodica says.
“Here my children and I slept good for the first time since the war started,” says Lyudmila. “In my relatives’ basement, I slept maybe 2 hours a night, if at all. I tried to get my children to sleep, but I knew at least Ivan and Olehsii were awake. Here we sleep at least 5-6 hours a night. We’ve rested.”
Ivan and Olehsii can do school classes remotely, but neither are happy with this solution. “Online classes are not good for learning,” says Ivan. “My cousin and I are both in the last year of school. We planned to go to naval university. Now, we don’t know. Maybe we can find another option in Europe, though our first choice is still to study at a Ukrainian university.”
Olehsii adds: “The two of us take Romanian language classes twice a week for two hours. I can say some things, but it’s only been a week of classes, so it’s not much. We have to learn the language because we don’t know how long we’ll have to stay here.”
Lyudmila continues to work online. Her company is still running and allows for remote work. “This is another reason why I appreciate what SOS Children’s Villages gives us. I can have some normality in my life and not spend the time worrying about my husband.”
She says she speaks to her husband daily. “He’s always smiling,” she says with tears in her eyes. “He repeats that it’s vsyo normalno (all is normal). I know it’s not, we all know it’s not.”
Lyudmila’s younger son, eight-year-old Serhii, asks if he can let Clifford in. Clifford is the family dog, a four-month-old Labrador puppy. Lively and curious, Clifford runs from person to person, licking hands and wagging his tail. “Clifford is happy here,” Serhii smiles. “And so am I. I play basketball with Ivan and Olehsii, we go for walks, well they don’t always take me because I’m small, but I really like staying in the yard. It’s so big and I can run with Clifford all day.”