Photo: CARE/Sarah Easter

Ukraine: “One, two, three, it is only fireworks, four, five, six, only fireworks”

“When a missile comes flying towards you, it is the whistle sound that you hear first,” says Olga from Pokrovsk, a small town in Donetsk Oblast in Eastern Ukraine. It is as if the air is being split apart and then you hear the explosion. The shrapnel is flying in all directions. Windows are bursting. Houses are vibrating and beds are shaking.

A sound of destruction, fear, and despair. A sound that hits you to the core and forces you to react. For Olga and her nine-year-old granddaughter, Darya, it means: Get at least two walls between yourself and the missile to slim the chances of being directly killed, therefore, hide immediately in the small corridor.

Photo Credit: CARE/Sarah Easter

Olga, 50, from Pokrovsk, a small town in Donetsk Oblast in Eastern Ukraine. Photo: CARE/Sarah Easter.

Olga recalls one of the recent attacks, a few moments before midnight on New Year’s Eve: “I grabbed my Chihuahua Busya, while Darya started counting and convincing herself at the same time: ‘One, two, three, its only fireworks, four, five, six, only fireworks, fireworks, fireworks, seven, eight.’ A night where you can hear fireworks exploding in colorful flashes all around the world. Here, seven air strikes injure a nine-year-old girl and a 70-year-old woman and damage 16 houses.  

“Since that night, there have been two or three direct hits in our town every single night,” says Olga, holding tightly onto the edge of the table she is sitting at. “We have been taking shifts every night since then, to stay safe.”

One person stays awake while the others are sleeping to listen to the explosions and to wake the others when it is time to run to the corridor or the basement,
shared Olga.

“My granddaughter Darya takes the first shift. She stays up until two in the morning. Then my daughter takes over the next three hours and then she comes and wakes me for the rest of the night,” explains Olga. Darya tries to distract herself while playing games on the phone. “Last night was calm, we could only hear some explosions on the outskirts. Those are loud and you can hear it in the air, but we do not need to hide.

Incoming airstrikes are absolutely terrifying. Two nights ago, the whole house was shaking, and my bed jumped. The strike hit only a few kilometers away,
described Olga.

The recent attacks have intensified since New Year’s and forced Olga and her family to create a system in which they can survive. Six months ago, the apartment was hit directly. The balcony and windows were destroyed. Recently a partner organization of CARE helped to restore the windows.  

On January 6th, Olga and her granddaughter leave the house to go to the drugstore, because Olga has a headache. “I often get those, as the stress is just too much for me,” says Olga. Darya stays in the car while Olga goes inside the store, that is when several airstrikes hit the city center directly. One second, she is talking to someone, the next an ear-splitting sound shakes the whole building.

I was so afraid I would never see my granddaughter alive again. I dropped everything and ran as fast as I could back to the car,
she shared.

Darya normally copes very well with the constant terror and fear and is very resilient. “But on that day, I found her sitting in the car in a brace position and she was screaming,” describes Olga while wrapping her hands and arms around her head, ducking closer to the table. Eleven people were killed in Pokrovsk that day. Five of them children, one was three years old.  

This is now the reality of our life. It is a constant feeling of uncertainty and there is no hope,
Olga expressed.

I must take several strong sedatives to get through a day, but I am very grateful to have the opportunity to find some support in the community center here,” says Olga. The community center that Olga and her granddaughter visit three or four times a week offers psychosocial support for free, a project supported by CARE and partners. There are several individual or group sessions and especially children can find activities like drawing and art sessions here that distract them from the fear and terror for a little while. “Since coming here, I feel much better. I don’t take as many sedatives anymore. It is like a breath of fresh air, and we remember how to live again,” describes Olga. Since the escalation of the war nearly two years ago, there have been no activities for children in her town. “Here Darya can let out her energy and she can be a child again, even if it is only for an hour,” says Olga while children are playing in the background. “This helps us to continue."

Olga concluded:

At night we take shifts to listen to the explosions, run and hide, and during the day we learn how to deal with the panic and how to breathe again.