• uk
  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Olena Romanenko

    5 cities in 5 months. This is a story of a paraplegic woman from Kharkiv who fled the shelling at the last moment

    Ukrainians abroad

    АвторAuthor: Iryna Semenova | Translation: Anna Shliakhova

    9 August 2022

    Olena and all her family are from Kharkiv. It was her cosy, homely, and happy life with a job she liked and her friends. But, on the evening 23th of February her husband told her that she had 2 hours to collect her things and that was the beginning of their long way to nowhere through Ukrainian and, later, European cities. Now she lives in Northern Italy and can’t predict her life even for a week.

    I had a wonderful, safe, predictable life. I could plan a year ahead: buying tickets for a concert, booking flights, making appointments to doctors or cosmetologists. I had been working in a travel agency for 4 years. We traveled a lot and could afford a lot of things. I had a housemaid, even.

    One of the most painful losses is a loss of control over my life. Now, I can’t even plan for tomorrow.

    I can no longer work in a familiar area and it depresses me. I have always earned money, not received it for free. Now, when I’m 37-year-old, I have to ask my Mom for help. It oppresses me.

    When I was 16, I spent time with my friends on the river. It was an unfamiliar place for us as we were there for the first time. After diving into shallow water I had a spinal cord injury. Since then, I have moved only in a wheelchair. Despite this I graduated from university, changed several jobs, learned to be self-sufficient, created a family and gave birth to my son.

    Faced with the war, just like everybody I asked myself why, why it’s happening to me. Then I recall that my heart had stopped three times during my life. But I’m still alive. Certainly, I’m alive not to be killed by the russian aggression.

    My mom lives in Australia. For a while there were alarming news reports, though she strongly advised us to collect all the papiers, just in case. On the 20th of February my husband packed a grab-and-go bag that should have been at hand. But still, it felt like it was not real. I packed only the documents.

    We Went to Nowhere

    On the 23th of February my husband took our child from extracurricular activities and called me about 9 p.m. He said: “We have two hours to get ourselves ready. My workmates say that there are rumors in Belgorod, it will start the next morning.” Somehow we threw some things into suitcases, got our 85-year-old grandmother and sent a message to our friends that we were leaving. We left Kharkiv at 1:30 a.m. and got stuck in a traffic jam. It took 8 hours!!!

    Panic. Fear. No one followed the rules, everyone drove in the opposite lane or whatever. At 5 a.m. we already knew about the shelling of Kharkiv.

    Everything was busy. Everything was booked in Lviv as well as in Uzhhorod. Old buildings have no possibility for wheelchair users, and renting an apartment in a new building cost a small fortune. Though we went to a hotel at Synevyr Pass. The snow lied up to my waist, so I couldn’t go outside for a week.

    All my family, my grandmother, my brother-in-law with his family, and my parents-in-law stayed there. But the owners notified us that they were going to close it. In a week we decided to go abroad.

    My brother-in-law couldn’t go due to martial law being declared in the country. But I need supervision, so my husband could leave the country with me.

    Through Slovakia to Italy

    We went to Slovakia. I filled in numerous forms on the way and we were promised a shelter.

    In a small Slovak town, which is famous for wine production, a woman hosted Ukrainians for a few days while they were deciding what to do further.

    I began to learn how we can stay here, what is the level of income here, what they can offer to us, and concluded that we had to move further.

    I wrote on Facebook that I needed an accommodation with ramp access, and a girl from a health center for people with disabilities responded to me. She is from Ukraine and she agreed with the management that we could stay there for a few weeks.

    Read also: Mykhailo Lavrovsky: “The motto of our battalion is – “For the sake of every life”

    March came to an end. My parents-in-law went to Germany. They could live there at the house of my mother-in-law’s brother. But he lives in a house with stairs, though it wasn’t an option for me. Though I was considering Germany because of its high level of health care. I wrote to my acquaintances who also had disabilities and had lived there for a long time. But the only option was to rent an apartment for a few months while looking for housing. But it cost at least 1000 euro per month with no guarantee of housing support at all. We couldn’t afford it.

    Then I asked for help on Facebook one more time. I wrote a post that we were looking for housing for four of us including one with a disability in any European country. I received responses from Norway and Canada, but it was either a shared house or a field house. Suddenly, a woman from Slovakia wrote to me. She had lived in Italy for a long time, she had a husband and a child there. She told me about a social project that helped refugees from Albania, Syria, and now from Ukraine. They promised free housing for us and 35 euros per person per week of humanitarian help. They also promised that we will have a right to learn and work in the future. It is the very south of Italy with only the sea and Africa nearby. A terrible heat!

    After All, All Roads Lead to Rome

    It’s interesting that I’ve bought tickets to Rome three times before the war. And every time something happened in the way: either COVID pandemic or flight canceling. And we were about to go 2000 km through all of Italy. Together with my husband we realized that we couldn’t go for 30 hours non-stop like it had been on our way from Kharkiv to Uhhorod. But, we had to go. We decided to make a stop in Rome to visit it, finally! I was happy to spend a day in Rome! I could even treat my grandmother, who had never been abroad, with a true Italian pizza and the most delicious gelato. I could show her the “Eternal City”.

    Trevi fountain

    Olena with her son and her grandmother near Trevi fountain

    We came there, they made the papers for us and gave us a shelter. But the benefits came along with a lot of restrictions. Among the others we couldn’t leave Italy for more than 2 weeks in a half a year.

    My husband has a unique business. They produce exact copies of historical costumes for cinema, theater, and reconstruction. They work in Kharkiv and Lviv, and they want to open business in Czech Republic. He needs to be there to start a production. In addition to that we learned that we couldn’t take part in this project if he would earn more than 500 euro a month. Obviously, a family of 4 couldn’t live with an income of 500 euro and rent an apartment. But, the rules are the rules.

    We had to restart our quest. Our friend wrote to us that they were living in a hotel in the middle of Italy, and there were 2 more rooms available: one for me and one for my friend with her family, who were looking for something in Poland.

    My Son Doesn’t Want to Go to Italian School

    Now, my son protests against everything around him. I want him to go to an Italian school learning the language and keep living. But he is strongly against my will. Here, in Italy everything is different. They have another schedule, double lessons, small breaks, and no physical education at all. Not only could children not understand lessons, but they couldn’t even move. There are no playgrounds for kids, not a single bar! Only swings somewhere…

    It’s hard for my 10-year-old son. Everything is strange for him. After all, he will go to Italian school and will learn online additionally. The level of education here is three years behind the Ukrainian one! 

    Europeans are Forgetting About the War in Ukraine 

    Italians have stopped talking about the war in Ukraine. Their news is okay. Recently a volunteer asked us if we still need help. They thought everything was fine, because many Ukrainians have come back home. When I told him that it is still the same, that everyday missiles fly to our cities and people die every day, he asked for recent photos to show for his municipality and prove the necessity of help.

    Our home in Kharkiv is still there. It’s near the central railway station. But the shelling is getting closer every day. How can we come back there? Still, we have to pay for utilities. It’s strange, isn’t it?

    We can live in Italy till next March. We can live in this hotel till December and then postpone this term. But I can’t imagine what to do further. I need a doctor nearby. It’s an issue here. It took so much time and it’s so complicated.

    Some of Our Former Friends Went to the Evil Side

    I had to erase many people from my life. Communication is impossible with acquaintances across the border, my husband’s relatives. They keep repeating propaganda clichés. They say that we can’t realize how NATO uses Ukraine. If not only NATO, nothing would happen. It doesn’t make sense, but they don’t listen to anything.

    I have a blog on Instagram with 15 000 followers. I talked about important issues there. But at the beginning of the war the followers from russia went to the evil side and became silent. Personally for me, silence is a lack of willpower, of self-expression and expression of one’s own thoughts. They are just cowards!


    I don’t want to live in Italy, ever! It’s a place for a holiday only! The sea is amazing, landscapes are scenic, but it isn’t homely. Everything is different here.

    I want to come back to Ukraine, to my native Kharkiv. But I have no clue when it will be possible. No school for my son survived there, so we stayed here. We do what we can, we help with information and collect money for an armored car.

    Of course, we want to go back home. We just finished the renovation of our house. It’s comfortable for wheelchair users. It’s so homely there, and here… It’s the 5th city in the last few months.

    Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
    Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.

    Why is it important to share this story?
    If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.

    АвторAuthor: Iryna Semenova | Translation: Anna Shliakhova

    Ukrainians abroad

      Розкажи свою історію

      Ваша історія — особлива. Нехай світ її почує!

        Tell your story

        Your story is special. Let the world hear her!