Stories of Change
Top: Natalia handing out winter clothing, Middle: Natalia at distribution center, Bottom: Winter clothing ready to be handed out
A Safe Home and a Warm Hug
If you had just 20 minutes to pack a small bag and leave the rest behind, possibly for forever, what would you pack? For Natalia, who fled Ukraine earlier this year, the answer to this question was: documents, necessary items for her son, her son’s favorite toy, books and some snacks. The limited belongings Ukrainians like Natalia have fled with reveal how sudden, shocking and frightening it is to be forced out of one’s own country.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Natalia had to make the quick decision to flee or stay in her country. As explosions boomed near her home, and her 10-year-old son cried with fear, Natalia quickly knew what had to be done. She explained, “in that moment I realized that the most important thing was my son and that we had to leave. So we took the car and we left.”
Natalia kept a calm and strong composure as she and her son fled to nearby Moldova. As they approached the border and reality set in, however, Natalia allowed herself to shed a tear. Fortunately, in Moldova Natalia discovered a welcoming community that she describes as “a warm hug.” She shared, “when we drove into Moldova and people saw our license plate from Ukraine, they stopped and asked ‘do you need any help?’ ‘Do you need medicine?’ ‘Do you need psychological help?’, ’ Do you have a place to stay?’”.
After a few months in Moldova, Natalia’s tears of sorrow turned into tears of joy and gratitude. Thanks to the support of the community and local organizations, Natalia and her son have been able to create a peaceful life for themselves. Natalia shared, “in this city, my son and I feel safe. He is smiling, he’s singing, he’s drawing, he’s going to school online. I am also teaching school online to Ukrainian children.”
Filled with gratitude and a desire to give back, Natalia decided to become a volunteer at a CWS-supported distribution center in Balti, where she helps distribute food and clothing to refugees. Natalia explained that as we approach winter, distributing warm clothes is extra important to prevent people from getting sick. She elaborated that, “a lot of people are still coming here from Ukraine and they are very stressed and disoriented. We know what they are going through, we understand them and we want to help.” At the distribution center, Natalia also likes to talk to other refugees and share her own tips, knowledge and as she told us, “the same warmth I received here”. She stated, “the formula for helping is that you accept the help, and then you are able to help someone else. That’s what I’m doing.”
Despite the war, Natalia remains hopeful and dreams of the day she will be able to return to Ukraine. In a week, she will be reunited with her parents who will be coming to live with her and her son in Moldova. She told us her father is excited to see his grandson and said, “to be one family in one place will be the moment we finally feel totally safe.” Through our continued effort in Moldova, and volunteers like Natalia, we hope to help other refugees find the same safety and warmth that Natalia and her family have found.