АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Nataliia Zadorozhna
15 August 2022
Anna Mazurenko, a young mother on maternity leave, could not stand aside from the trouble in which her compatriots found themselves. Ever since Cherkasy became a second home for more than 100,000 displaced people, she became an active volunteer. To date, the girl has provided and continues to provide targeted assistance to almost 600 families with children who were forced to leave their homes because of the war. The woman told the story of her volunteering to the “Monologues of the War” project.
The night from the 23rd to the 24th of February was just terrible. Around 4 a.m., my 2-year-old child began to cry in her sleep: “Mom, it hurts!” I picked her up, took her in my arms, and she had a temperature of up to 39 degrees, her throat was red and it hurt to swallow. Then, at half past six a.m., I found out that a full-scale war had begun.
“Her “Mom, it hurts!”, and the news about the beginning of the war overlapped. It was very scary. I held her in my arms and understood that we cannot go anywhere with a sick child, because she doesn’t feel well.”
I didn’t immediately understand what I should do, but I knew for sure that I would not go abroad. Five years ago, I told my husband that we would be together in sorrow and in joy, and I could not leave him at the very first grief!
“Of course, I am responsible for my child and her life, but I knew for sure that we should all be together. Maybe we will go to the west of the country, but certainly not beyond its borders.”
7-8 days after the start of the war, everyone started leaving. I was stressed, I cried, I couldn’t get a wink of sleep for several days, because godmothers, friends and neighbors have left the city. One godmother evacuated with a child sitting on the floor of the train, because there were too many people. I was tearing up, bacause I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing, and then I restrained myself. I realized that my mission is to stay here and help.
It all started around 7-9 day of the war. My friend, who is involved in volunteering, posted the news on Instagram that she is helping our Cherkasy city hospital and they brought a boy from Vyshnevo which is located near Kyiv. From there, orphaned children were evacuated to Cherkasy, and one boy fell ill and then was hospitalized. He had absolutely no belongings, not even slippers, because children were in such a hurry to evacuate that they took almost nothing with them.
When I saw that child, I decided that I would visit him, gather everything I have in order to help him and buy some sweets. So, I made a post about it in Instagram stories, in case someone wanted to join.
“People started asking for my bank card number, in order to transfer funds. I bought some things, sweets, fruits and went to the boy. He was the first child that I managed to help.”
That’s how my volunteering journey began. I don’t know how many families I had helped after that child, but somewhere around 600 for sure. I had opened rising of funds, and that’s how I started helping the displaced people.
During the first month of the war I helped the Humanitarian Center that opened in Cherkasy. I drove around the city by car and collected baby carriages, scooters, and bought something from myself – a box or two of candies, coloring books, pencils, so that the children could play while waiting for their mothers in the center.
But then people found out about me from social media sites and started to contact me. So, I opened a fundraising for food packages.
“I made lists and visited 11 families of IDPs per day. They were evacuated with practically no belongings. So, I handed over to them groceries, and also toys, office supplies, for the children.”
I made posts on Instagram and many people brought to me the needed things, and the rest I bought myself. There are many groups created in Telegram where mothers report their needs. In these groups, they know that I am a volunteer and that they can turn to me for help.
There were mothers who wrote even late in the evening that they had run out of the infant formula. They live in the village, the weekend is ahead and the mixture is for humanitarian aid, it is not for sale. So, at 10 p.m., I started writing to everyone and looking for that mixture.
And there were those who called at 7 a.m. to ask if they could come first to get a grocery package so that they would have enough. People are different (laughs – editor’s note).
People are divided into two types. The first ones are when you drive up to them, they get out, pick up a grocery bag, say thank you and leave. And you understand that this is not ingratitude. They just don’t have the resources. And others – on the contrary: they have experienced everything and they want to talk about it, cry and hug.
There was one family from Mariupol. Two cool girls are growing up there. They left the city, but had to go through the terrible mines, at their own fear and risk. The husband’s parents stayed in town.
“A few days later, the father called and said that they were taken to the DPR. A shell hit their house, while my mother was just standing by the window, and her arm was cut off on her shoulder, which fell to the floor…”.
The father grabbed his wife, somehow dragged her to the basement, although he himself received a concussion. And when the shelling ended, he took a chair, moved it in front of him so as not to fall, and thus dragged his wife along with him…
He came to the first hospital, and it was already gone. Then he came on foot to another – and it was gone too, the surgeon was wounded there, he said that he could not help them. So, they went to the third hospital. There they were told that the woman will die if they don’t go to Donetsk. And they, of course, chose life.
There was another story, told by another woman.
“A shell hit the high-rise building. They ran out, and in the apartment opposite, where the boy lived, everything was buried. They saw his legs under the rubble, started to dig them out, and shouted for help. When they took him out, they saw that his head was crushed. The boy was 21 years old, he was lying crushed…”.
I don’t know where I get the strength for it. Once we went to Spain and there was a roller coaster “Shambala” in the amusement park. It is 120 meters high and I never dared to go down from it, because I was very scared of it.
“And now I joke that I ride that Shambhala every day! These are my emotional roller coasters: there are days when I am happy that I manage to help other people, and there are days when I just fly into the abyss and have no strength for anything, just sick of everything…”
If earlier I planned to visit up to 10-11 people a day, now I keep 2-3 people for myself. And we are not talking about physical fatigue, it is just morally difficult.
When I started collecting baby strollers around the city, and then I watched how mothers disassembled them, were happy, it inspired me a lot. And now, when there is a lot of work and I am preoccupied, it also helps me. In the evening, I just fall into bed and fall asleep.
I always felt like I could do more, but one day I had a breakdown.
I don’t know how many people I visited back then. There were those who desperately needed that grocery package today and not a day later. I loaded myself so much! I drove with my child all day in the car, she didn’t have lunch or dinner, she sat all day on water and cookies, because I simply had no time for it physically.
“And here it is half past ten in the evening. It is very dark outside. I am at the other end of the city giving away the last package, and my child trips, falls and breaks the arm. The blood is flowing, and I have neither antiseptic nor water to wash the wound… I look at the child, she should have been asleep for a long time! And I try so hard to do a lot of things that I forgot about myself and my family.”
There are many such people who find it difficult that they must ask for and accept help. I have had cases where migrant parents came to get a scooter for their child and handed me money. Of course, I didn’t take them, but I understood why they did it. People are so grateful that they are ready to give their last savings.
This week I helped a mother from Cherkasy. They are in a difficult situation: she is on maternity leave, her husband has lost his job.
“They come and bring my daughter a waffle and juice. The woman came to get the formula because she had nothing to feed her own child, but she bought sweets for my daughter.”
And she spent almost the last of her money to at least somehow say thank you…
I have a lot of drawings, I keep them all. Mom comes with the children for food and the kids draw the coat of arms of Ukraine for me, write “Glory to Ukraine” or draw me – all this is very touching.
“These people tell us a lot about sad things. But once they have endured, managed to survive, they say, we will start a new life here. I’m a fan of such people! They make plans, believe in the good, hope that they will be able to start a new life.”
Many people follow me on Instagram, we correspond, see each other, I go to visit children. I drive past some familiar address, I write: “Hello, what does Nastia want?”. Nastia is 8 years old. And her older sister answers: “Nastia wants condensed milk.” I can stop by, buy and just take it to the child to make her happy.
Or when one family wrote to me asking me to visit them. When I arrived, a large package was waiting for me. I opened it, and there the woman had made a whole set of all kinds of hair ornaments with flowers with her own hands! Very nice ornaments for my daughter! It was so nice.
My husband is such a person that in life he always gives more than he receives. I remember the first days of the war, I was scared, it was unclear what would happen next, about our financial situation. Will we still have a work? How will we survive? At that time, no one could withdraw money from the card, ATMs ran out of money, queues were huge. When I came home and told about it, he told me: “By the way, I spent 10 thousand hryvnias.” I looked at him and was shocked.
It turned out that his best friend’s classmate had gone off to war and he didn’t have a good bulletproof vest. And it was necessary to quickly find a quality one. And he transferred 10 thousand. This is the story of my husband’s volunteering (laughs – editor’s note).
“What I realized about myself is that I am very resilient, brave, I have enough strength even when it’s scary to tell a child fairy tales, play with her, stick stickers in the bathroom or in the basement. I did not know that I could do that. And everyone says that I have a big heart. Before, I didn’t think about it.”
I feel sorry for every child, person, I understand that I ache for them. I can’t waste time, I want to live it with benefit for others, so that everyone who needs help can get it.
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 Hyliuk | Translation: Nataliia Zadorozhna