Alone on the run

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More than two million people have left Ukraine so far. Most of the refugees are women and children. Yuliia Temchenko fled Kiev with her two three- and five-year-old sons when Russia began bombing the capital. On International Women's Day, she tells her story.

On 22 February, Yuliia Temchenko turned 37. She celebrated the birthday in her hometown Kiev, a restaurant visit with friends. “I told them that I didn’t believe in a total Russian invasion of Ukraine, that politics would resolve the conflict and Putin would withdraw his troops before they invaded Kiev,” she recalls. 24 hours later, she was standing at the window of her flat on the 11th floor, watching the bombs fall in the distance.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, more than 1.5 million people have fled. They are seeking shelter in the neighbouring countries of Moldova, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Romania. Most of them are women and children. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave the country. “Many of them don’t even want to leave,” says Yuliia Temchenko. “They want to fight for their homeland.” That is why many women arrive alone with their children in the two Romanian cities of Timisoara and Brasov, where two Solidar Suisse partner organisations are supporting the refugees. Yuliia Temchenko is one of them.

Yulia Temchenko im Empfangszentrum in Brasov.
Yulia Temchenko im Empfangszentrum in Brasov.

Yuliia Temchenko with her children in the welcoming centre of the Solidar partner organisation Migrant Integration Center in Brasov. Picture: Fairpicture/Andrei Pungovschi

When the sirens went off in Kiev, she knew: I have to get out of here
Yuliia Temchenko spent the night after her birthday under the streets of Kiev. Like thousands of others, she and her children sought shelter in the Vurlucya metro station, in sub-zero temperatures. “I packed the children in winter clothes, took pillows, blankets and food, and we looked for a place in the underground corridors. I didn’t sleep a wink, but at least my children were fine. They thought we were camping here for fun.” The next morning she wanted to go back to the flat with the children, make a plan on how to proceed. “I was still convinced that we would not leave Kiev.” But even as she was on the stairs of the metro station, the bomb sirens went off. “At that moment I realised: we have to get out of here.”

Even if they are received kindly, the women who left Ukraine alone do not have it easy. “Many only speak Ukrainian or Russian. For example, they arrive in Romania without any money. Now to cope with everything alone – far away from their home – that is an indescribable situation,” says Yuliia Temchenko. She herself was already taking care of herself and her children alone at home. She is a lawyer and led a good life, as she says herself. “It is difficult for me to depend on others in this situation. I am infinitely grateful that so many people offer their help and solidarity, give me a roof over my head and perspectives. But the feeling of being dependent and helpless hurts my soul.”

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