Anastasiia, a young Ukrainian refugee, is rebuilding her life just weeks after fleeing devastating conflict back home.
In the space of a month, Anastasiia’s world turned upside down. Separated from her friends, her homeland and most of her relatives, she is living in Poland with her mother and brother. Below, she speaks to us about navigating through work, family and relationships while adapting to ever-changing circumstances.
How did you first decide to leave Ukraine?
I had been living in Lviv, in western Ukraine, for 6, almost 7 years, although I’m originally from Zaporizhia, in the southeast, and that is where my family is from. For the last six months I have worked for a company that has all foreign clients.
On the day the war began, my mother texted me at 6am, and said that they were leaving to come to me. Reading all of the news, I started crying and screaming, I couldn’t believe what was happening. Then I saw another message from my mother later that day. They were on their way to pick me up in Lviv. I felt relieved that I would get to see them soon. It took about a day and a half for my family to arrive.
What helped you cope with so much change?
I was trying to work and not read the news all the time. I took maybe two or three days off work, but otherwise I worked throughout, everyday. My job is in marketing and I work remotely. It helped to distract me from what was going on.
At the same time, I was trying to find us an apartment in Poland. This was another distraction. When my parents got to me in Lviv, we initially thought we would stay there, and we were also considering going to Zaporizhia because my grandparents were still living there. There were many things to consider, including my boyfriend’s hopes that we would move abroad together. We chose Wrocław in Poland because my parents have friends there, and they let us stay in an apartment while we looked for somewhere longer term. Much of the rest of my family are still in Ukraine.
More than 3 million people came to Poland, just like us.
What’s it like living and working in Wrocław?
More than 3 million people came to Poland, just like us. It was so hard to find somewhere good for my mother, brother and me. We were lucky in the end, though, because we got an apartment quick enough, thanks to the help of our friends. Right now, it’s good for us. We don’t argue at all, and I can work online every day. Similar to most Ukrainians here, my mother is struggling to find a job in Poland.
Your boyfriend lives in another country in Europe. Has that been difficult?
The first thing my boyfriend wanted to do was take me away to where he lives. But that was hard for me; after days of discussing it with my family, we decided to go to Poland and I managed to see him at the Ukraine-Polish border, as he came to volunteer with a friend.
He’s finishing his education, and he’s also volunteering as an interpreter to help refugees who have fled Ukraine. It’s difficult for him too; he also has family in Ukraine. But I’m glad he is safe, and we talk everyday. At this time, I have no idea when we will next see each other, but I hope he will manage to get tickets to come here as soon as possible
Something really good happened to you soon after you arrived in Poland. Can you tell us what happened?
My boyfriend proposed to me last month. It happened on 7 March, the day before International Women’s Day. It was so unexpected. I remember being very cold, tired and wanting to go home, but my boyfriend wanted us to keep walking, even though it was late. We were walking around the city, just holding hands and talking.
All of a sudden he stopped and said “look at me”, and then he told me he had something to say to me. He got down on one knee and asked me if I wanted to be his wife. I was so shocked! It took me a few minutes to realize this was really happening, and then I told him my answer was of course yes.
So, now he’s my fiance! Getting engaged that evening was the first positive day I have had since everything began.
What do you hope people understand about the situation in Ukraine?
It’s been so horrible, reading the news and wondering where family members are. All my relatives are in eastern Ukraine and I am afraid of what could happen to them. Like my fiance’s grandmother and his other relatives; they are very close to the Russian border. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. It’s the worst thing. There’s so much information to get through, even in just one hour. And we’re constantly, always, reading the news and hoping people are okay.
Your brother is a teenager. How has he adjusted to all of this at such a young age?
At first, when we were leaving and on the way to Poland, he thought we were going on holiday; he said he’d never been to Poland before!
My brother is now enrolled in a local school and he’s really happy and enjoying it. We thought a school specifically for Ukrainian refugee children would be better for him, but after a week there he told us he preferred the Polish school he first went to as he made friends there. He just started talking to his new classmates—many were Polish, some were from Belarus or Russia—and he made friends easily.
I hope we don’t stay here very long. But right now it seems like we won’t return soon.
What do you hope for in the future?
I hope we don’t stay here very long. But right now it seems like we won’t return soon. It’s hard to predict. I don’t know how long we will be here for.
I’d like to live in another part of Europe with my fiance, but not for the rest of my life. I have a dream to go back home and live in Ukraine. I hope I get the chance to do that with him some day.
The IRC's work
In Ukraine, we are supporting evacuation efforts for women and children, providing psychological care and delivering groceries, blankets, warm clothes, stoves, cash and other essentials to displaced families.
The IRC is also on the ground in Poland working with three local organizations to meet the needs of families displaced from Ukraine, many of whom are staying in shelters across the country. Working with partners allows us to bolster the crisis response of people who have already been active in the community and are experts on the local context.
- With the Polish Red Cross, we are providing bedding, toiletries, mental health support and other emergency assistance to people arriving at border crossings or continuing their journeys into Poland from relocation points.
- We are working with the Polish Forum for Migration to provide newly arrived refugees with information on their rights and available assistance, as well as provide in-person and remote mental health support from trained psychologists.
- The IRC and the Polish Center for International Aid (PCPM) are delivering cash support to families living in cities including Lublin, Gdańsk, Łódź, and Poznań, to ensure they can buy food, medicine, clothing and other essentials.
- We are working with partners to set up Safe Healing and Learning Spaces across nine shelters in Warsaw, which will provide families, and children in particular, the space they need to recover from the trauma they have endured.
- With PCPM, we are connecting Ukrainian teachers with jobs in Poland and delivering cash support to ensure their salaries. This approach means that teachers can work flexibly and teach in schools where Ukrainian language skills are most needed.
- We are working to help children who arrived as refugees integrate into Polish classrooms, providing cultural assistants and other support.
- A new grant by Google.org and a Google.org Fellowship team will help the IRC support United for Ukraine, an information portal and civil society effort that helps displaced people find access to critical services. The initiative will be part of the IRC’s Signpost Project, a global humanitarian technology program operating in 15 countries that helps refugees find resources to meet their urgent needs.