My advice to other children who fled Ukraine? Appreciate what you have – UNHCR The Netherlands

Daria (15 years old) sings a traditional song from her homeland, Ukraine, at her family’s home in Chisinau, Moldova.

One morning in the early weeks of the conflict that erupted in Ukraine in February, 15-year-old Daria Nastasyuk’s world was turned upside down. She was awakened by the explosions near her home in Odessa, and her mother hurriedly asked her to run.

With eight people in the car, they spent more than 24 hours on roads that had become overcrowded, with thousands more fleeing to the nearby border with Moldova.

Daria broke up with her father, friends and her familiar life. She spent the past month with her mother and younger brother in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, in a university dormitory that the government has turned into a shelter for Ukrainians. Daria is one of more than 460,000 refugees who have crossed the border from Ukraine into Moldova since the start of the war.

In this article, Daria reflects on the recent change in her life, its psychological effects, and the advice she would give other teens who have never had to flee their homes. Her words have been modified to clarify the story.

Before the war I had many friends. We used to go out, do our homework, have tea at each other’s house and listen to music. We enjoyed. The atmosphere was calm and peaceful. Everything was perfect.

Before the war I had many friends. We would often go out, do our homework, and visit each other at home to drink tea and listen to music. Just enjoy. The atmosphere was calm and peaceful. Everything was perfect.

The biggest problems I had at that time were to do with school Or I argue with my friends or my parents. Now I realize that I have no serious problems. I only worried about the little things.

When the war broke out, there was a curfew and everyone had to stay home. There was no class, because all schools were closed.

Daria with her mother Olga (42 years old) and younger brother Sergey (7 years old) in their bedroom. © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

We left the day after the bombings began. When I first heard them, I was asleep. I thought someone was trying to wake me up to go to school. But it was my mother who woke me up and told me to pack my things quickly. I started running around the house to get ready. The next day we took things to the car and left.

I took some things with me, like shampoo, a pillow, and a stuffed animal; Little giraffe game. We also took a lot of food with us, because we knew it might be a long trip.

I wish I could bring more summer clothes and accessories. I would have preferred to bring my pets, my cat and my dog, because I miss them so much.

We have a lot of free time in Moldova, so we watch the news to see what is happening in Odessa. Nobody can believe what is happening there now.

Daria studies in the office in her family’s bedroom, where she takes online classes with her Ukrainian teachers and classmates. © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

When I was able to take lessons online I started to feel better. It distracts me and doing my homework keeps me busy. Because we can’t meet, sometimes we turn on our cameras to watch each others to see faces. All my classmates have fled to different countries such as Germany, Romania and United State.

I kept in touch with a friend from Ukraine who fled with his family to Germany. We talk almost every day. Usually we talk about the war, remember the good times before it, and try to support each other. We worry about our other friends and hope we can see each other again as soon as possible.

“I never thought I’d go to war.”

Before that I didn’t really think about refugees because I thought it wouldn’t happen to us. I never thought I would go to war and end up in this situation.

For me, being a refugee means that I don’t have direct access to food, a place to sleep and clothes. It also means the presence of psychological problems.

I’m sure I’ll keep bad memories of what happened, even if I don’t want to remember it. I try to find the things that distract me. The first thing I want to do [in Odesa] I went to the sea with my father and brother. I’ll take a dip and forget what happened.

My advice to children in othere Countries should be thankful for the time they have now and the peace in which they live, the happiness of having family and friends. Don’t worry about the little problems in life. Try to appreciate what you have.

As told to Charlie Dunmore and Irina Odobsko

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