Mother's Day: escaping the war
WRITTEN BY Darja Maskin
Today we all look up to ukrainian mothers: their motherhood was burdened with the violent reality of war, and yet they manage to take care of the most precious - their children. We admire their strength and support them.
We talked with Anna Ovcharenko, whose life was devided into “before” and “after”. On the 24th of February she took her two-years old son and escaped into the unknown.
Where are you from, and what you used to do before the war?
My name is Anna, and I’m from Kyiv. Before the war, I was a PR consultant, mother, wife, friend, and just a happy person. I planned to rent an office in the city center, buy a car and travel more.
The war has forced millions of Ukrainian women and kids to leave their homes, jobs, and schools in the middle of the night and flee from bombs and shelling. What was your morning on February 24th?
My husband and I were woken up by a phone call around 6 am. This is how, we found out that the war had begun. We didn't have bags and an anxious suitcase packed. We didn't believe that war was possible in our time.
I flipped all the wardrobe and shelves. With a numb horror inside, I tried to understand what was needed, what were the essentials, and what were not. Documents, jewelry, Teo's 2 favorite books, 3 toy cars, a pair of socks, and some clothes for each of us. When our son waked up, we had breakfast together, got dressed, and went to the car. The main task was to cross the Dnipro river as we live on the left side and were very afraid that the bridges would blow up.
It was 8 am on the clock, and there was already real panic on the streets: many hours of traffic jams, queues at pharmacies, gas stations, grocery stores, and ATMs. I tried to withdraw cash, but the ATM was empty.
At first, we wanted to go towards the border, but the traffic jam promised us to stand in it for several days (as it turned out later for thousands of people). We went to my parents in the suburbs of Kyiv. The next morning, we had to leave in different directions, and I’ll never forget the moment hugging my family and realizing that most likely, I would see them for the last time.
Teo turned two recently. You left your home with your son. Does he know what exactly is happening, why you left? Did you explain what happened?
Teo turned 2 in April, so we didn't tell him anything about the war. All he knows and understands about it is what he feels through me. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to control. We presented all our travels as an adventure (for the first two weeks we spent the nights in 5 different places, sometimes the number of people in one room reached 12). For a child, any change in the usual is already stressful.
We know you didn’t leave Ukraine and stayed there with your son. Having lost your projects due to the war in Ukraine, you still actively help with med supplies. How do you manage a full-time job of being a mother, helping those in need, and looking for projects during a war?
Now I’m just a mom and a half-volunteer )
I don’t have the opportunity to manage work with motherhood: Teo requires maximum attention and involvement. My job is to keep him safe and keep his childhood alive. In the city we are now - cafes work, people walk in parks, laugh, eat ice cream, and ride rides. And we do it all with Teo too.
It was challenging for me not to work. For me, work is one of the sources of recovery, and without having any other now, losing that too was painful.
So recently, I decided to resume PR consultations in two formats: written and zoom calls, which I can only do on weekends. I was looking for ways to regain my passion (work) somehow and settled on such formats so far.
Maybe when I find a half-day kindergarten for Teo, I can get back to part-time work.
A lot of time (especially at the beginning) was taken up by my help with medications: I spent hours at night going through incoming requests for thyroid medications and compiling lists for delivery. It always seemed like I wasn't doing enough, but the feedback with words of gratitude from people who got his life-saving cure is priceless.
As we’ve said before, you choose to stay in Ukraine rather than abroad. The news the world is getting is devastating. What helps you calm down and keep on going?
My son does.
I don’t allow myself to be weak in front of him. I know it’s important to show your child weakness too, but now I’ve chosen another position.
Also, actions and rituals familiar to your psyche help a lot. You should do what you used to do before the war: drink coffee, go shopping, watch a series. The brain relaxes from a set of habitual actions.
But most of all, it helps to cry enough. Allow yourself to experience all this pain: the body's tension is reduced, making space for hope, faith, and strength to continue.
How do you see the future of your son and all Ukrainians?
Victory and peace are awaiting for all of us. Ukraine has a long way to recovery, but we’ll rebuild it together!