A living room is filled with debris after an explosion

‘My greatest fear was war’

After her worst fears came true, Irina was forced to leave her life in Ukraine behind. Today, she finds comfort in Humanity & Inclusion’s psychosocial support in Moldova.

My name is Irina, I am 35 years old. I am from Ukraine, from the city of Odessa. I am married and have a 13-year-old daughter. I have been here with my family in Causeni, Moldova, for eight months already, after fleeing from the war.

On February 24 I woke up because I heard a blast. My first thought was that it could be some commotion on a construction site—the city is constantly under construction. Maybe some kind of slab fell down. But something did not feel right in my gut and I had some anxiety. I asked my husband, "What was that?" And he said, "I don't know." "Go out and see," I said.

He went into the yard, and said everything was quiet and peaceful. It was 5 a.m., so we went back to bed. But I was so anxious, I can't put it into words. I couldn't sleep anymore. I just laid there and closed my eyes. After another 10 minutes, I heard the sound again.

My husband jumped up and ran outside, and a rocket flew over our house. It was winter and it was dark, but the yard got so bright from this explosion that it looked like it was 12 o'clock in the afternoon. Pieces of debris fell onto the roof and I could hear this crackling in the house. It was very scary, and then I remembered that in the next room my daughter was sleeping. I ran into her room and just started silently lifting her out of bed and dressing her.

She did not understand what was going on, but I just said, "You have to get up, it's time to go.” We got in the car and when my husband opened the gate, we began to hear more explosions. We tried to go to a safe base nearby, but there was a mile-long traffic jam and the car was standing still. Finally, we decided to drive back home and we thought to go into our old basement.

We started taking water, blankets, food, and bread down there. We climbed into the cellar and heard another explosion. We sat in that cellar until about 3 or 4 in the afternoon, until it was quiet, calm. Eventually, we decided to go back out, but I was still in a panic.


My greatest fears came true

From childhood, my greatest fear was war. Everyone in the family knew that I was afraid of the word. No one ever said the word “war” in my presence, because I would become hysterical.

When warfare begins around you, such fear arises. You open the gates and you see tanks passing by, and soldiers with machine guns. I would not wish this even on my worst enemy, because it really is the worst thing that can happen on earth. It's not a natural disaster that can’t be avoided, like an earthquake or a flood. It's war, where a man knowingly goes to kill another man.

When we made the decision to leave, I remember like it was yesterday. My husband was sitting in the kitchen, I was pacing around the room asking, "God, what do we do?” I went into the kitchen and said, “We have to leave for Moldova.” I hadn’t crossed the border in 30 years, and I was scared, but I was firm in my decision. I had to think of my child.

It's like going out naked in the freezing cold. If you stay there, you would freeze and die. I knew that if I stayed with the explosions and all those tanks, I would just go crazy.

We brought friends with us, so there were seven of us in one car, sitting in each other's laps. There was such a big line that we had to wait a full day to cross the border.


My favorite part of the week

I have now been in Causeni, Moldova, for eight months. I’ve had to start a new life from scratch.

It has been a very difficult time for me. Everything I loved, everything I built, everything I strived for—I had to leave it all behind and come here. I knew no one, and it affected me psychologically. For quite some time, I couldn’t sleep. There are no explosions here, but I would still wake up several times every night and cry because of random sounds, like the siren of the ambulance, or my neighbor closing the trunk of his car. I was constantly worried that something could happen here, too.  It was so unbearable. It affected my health, my appearance and, at a certain point, I felt that I needed help from specialist. I felt like I was losing my mind.

Humanity & Inclusion came to Causeni and told us there are psychologists who can organize individual and group sessions. The psychologist I went to was Caroline. She was so supportive and helped me not only in this situation, but also with all the things that were bothering me in general, even before the war, concerning my childhood, relationships with parents, relatives, and friends.

We worked through everything. I began to feel differently about certain situations, I stopped getting triggered by the different sounds. Caroline taught me to continue living, and that I have every right to feel what I'm experiencing. I can't go to the past and change anything, but I can change my future life and the impact all of this has on me.

My 13-year-old daughter has also attended individual activities because she wanted to see a counselor after we arrived in Moldova. She went and came back very happy.

What Humanity & Inclusion is doing is really significant. Everyone is asking for some kind of material help, money, or food, but they forget that, each of us needs psychological support. At the end of the day, our mind is always with us.

I attend both individual and group sessions. I very much enjoy the group sessions, because you can share your problems with each other. It has brought us so close that we became friends. We even started going out together for coffees or to visit the park. Thursday is my favorite day now because that’s when we meet for a group session with Caroline. Together, we do these wonderful activities like painting on boards or on canvas bags. It's all so relaxing, and it's so important. I get to be creative. You gather stress all throughout the week, and then you can come in and just not think about anything. You relax and make something with your hands, you draw what you want, however you want. When your mind is relaxed you are more resilient. I’ve started to love myself and take time for myself. I get so much pleasure there and it fills me with such positive emotions and happiness. I feel like a butterfly fluttering.

Thanks to the psychologist, I feel as confident here as in my home country. I do not know the language, but that does not prevent me from communicating with other people. At first, I was very closed off here, but now I’ve realized that I have the right to ask for help and there is no shame in it.

Like everyone, all I want is peace and to go home. But, if I have to stay here and build a new life, I will be okay, too.