Elderly couple Hannah and Danylo sitting on a couch

Ukraine: “We are too afraid to go higher than the first floor”

“We worked hard to have a good life and a good retirement. We had a beautiful house, a dog, a cat and a car. Now we have nothing left. We lost everything, except what we were able to pack in our panic in two small bags,” reflects Hanna, 68, while sitting next to her husband Danylo. They are from Mariupol. On April 2 they leave their home behind and two and a half months later they arrive in Rivne, the West of Ukraine. Their journey is very difficult.  

The couple has a son who lives in Kyiv with their grandson who has autism. The son tries to convince his parents to come and live with him. He wants to come and pick them up. They refuse. “We did not want to leave our dog and cat behind. We did not want to leave the only home that we have ever known,” says Hanna. Then the fighting comes very close. Hanna and Danylo decide to move down to the basement. Then on April 2 the knock on the door.

They told us that we have ten minutes to leave. We were so afraid and only had time to pack two bags. All the bridges out of Mariupol were already destroyed, so there was only one way to go: East towards Russia”
Hanna, who had to flee Mariupol with her husband

“There were so many people on the road. So many cars and people walking. They took us to a camp where we had to stay for a few days. There were long lines everywhere. We travelled with a young couple for a while, they were questioned, and we didn’t see them again,” Hanna reflects. Her husband nods his head while she speaks, clutching his crutch that he needs for walking. Hanna is holding a cup of coffee in one hand, that she forgets to drink until it is already cold, and a tissue in the other hand. “We didn’t know what was happening in our country. We didn’t know if Kyiv was still standing or if everyone was dead. There was no information anywhere. We made announcements on walls and asked around for any of our relatives, to see if someone survived,” Hanna describes. The elderly couple continues their journey in the only direction that is possible: over the border to Russia. They manage to get to Moscow. 

“I was so afraid. I thought I would be shot at any second. Danylo was doing better, he was my hero and was always looking for a place to stay, for information or for a path back home,” Hanna continues while putting her hand on her husband’s leg, who waves her away and shakes his head. Hanna is exaggerating his efforts, he says.  

Then Hanna gets sick. Covid. For three weeks she is laying in a hospital in Moscow and is having trouble breathing. The couple is separated. Danlyo worries but continues searching for a safe place for him and his wife, while she is alone in the hospital bed. Scared of everything around her and fighting for her life.  

RS92590_DSC_1268 from Mariupol, Hanna (68) and Danylo Boyko (70), fled via Russia.jpg

Hanna, 68, and her husband Danylo, 70, fled to Rivne Western Ukraine

After three weeks Hanna recovers and can leave the hospital to join her husband who has found a way back to Ukraine for them. “We left Russia via the Baltic states. For two days we were sitting on a bus. My legs were hurting so bad from sitting so long,” describes Hanna. Her ankles are swelling, because of the build-up of fluid. They are able to reenter Ukraine and for the first time have some news from home. 90% of Mariupol is destroyed. Their home is gone. They manage to reach their son in Kyiv. “He and our grandson are in a different apartment now. Two missiles went directly through his old apartment and destroyed it,” says Hanna. He asks them to join him in Kyiv, but they are too afraid. “We came to Rivne, because we needed to find a place without shooting and somewhere where we can flee over the border fast. Our son now lives on the 13th floor. We are too afraid to go higher than to the first floor, because there won’t be enough time to go the basement when the air alarm goes off,” says Hanna. Her husband moves closer to her on the sofa, and she turns slightly, waving him off, but shifts into him, nonetheless. They have been living together for a long time. They tease each other, but they also give each other strength.  

In Rivne they live in a small apartment on the ground floor. The only thing left from home are their two bags. They do not have towels or sheets, no winter clothes, no blankets. They left everything behind. CARE and its partners support internally displaced people such as Hanna and Danylo with psychosocial support, information on job opportunities, rights and aid as well as legal counseling and training. Hanna and Danylo meet with a lawyer at a bus stop in Rivne because they are too afraid for their safety to invite people to their new home. The lawyer helps them by finding out their needs, giving them information on their rights and where to receive humanitarian aid such as food and hygiene packages, but also financial aid. The lawyer also helps them to find a cheaper apartment. Both were also offered psychological support, but they refused. “I am still crying. I cannot comprehend and work through this yet,” Hanna explains. She takes some medicine for sleeping that helps her relax a little. “I try to distract myself with household tasks and I also try not to get too emotional.” She apologizes for crying while she talks about her experiences.  

Hanna and Danylo miss their home very much. “Every time I see grapes in the shop, I start crying,” says Hanna. Mariupol is known for its humid climate with warm summers and cold winters. Grapes grow very well in this area. But they are happy that they survived. That they are in their home country and that they have each other.