It's shortly after five o’clock in the afternoon and Tatiana has just arrived home from work. As she begins to tell her story, she sits on the couch, her hands clasped in her lap. She rubs one hand against the other and looks out the window as memories about leaving Ukraine rewind in her mind.
“We left Dnipro on 4 March 2022, on an evacuation train. I took my two children with me and had no idea what was going to happen,” Tatiana remembers the events of a year ago when full scale war broke out. Since then, her life has changed significantly, and today everything is completely different than it was before.
Tatiana clearly remembers the morning of 24 February. At dawn, she received a phone call from a friend in the army who informed her of the escalating violence and advised her to stock up food supplies and hide in the basement as soon as possible. Tatiana still recalls the panic in the shops, where people were buying everything they could.
For more than a week, Tatiana and her family hid in the basement following the news and notifications of airstrikes, until the birthday of her oldest daughter Marie. “My daughter spent her 15th birthday in the basement, scared and crying. We were all in shock. That's when I decided we had to leave Ukraine,” says Tatiana. Her husband supported her decision to search for safety outside the country where the war was raging, though he had to stay in Ukraine for the mobilization. Saying goodbye was painful.
When Tatiana boarded the evacuation train, she left her old life behind. Her husband had a business where she occasionally helped him with paperwork, but otherwise she was devoted to her family and home.
Once the war broke out, Tatiana and her daughters Maria and Daryna went to the United States at the invitation of relatives. However, their stay there was short as it was not possible to get legal residence and a work permit. Two months later, Tatiana and her family decided to go to Slovakia, which was providing temporary protection to refugees from Ukraine.
“It was another change, particularly difficult for my teenage daughter Maria. First she had to leave her school and friends in Dnipro. When she acclimatized to the United States and finally found friends, we had to leave again,” Tatiana explains of her family's complicated journey to safety. “When we arrived in Slovakia, the first weeks were very difficult for her, she hardly left her room,” recalls Tatiana.
In Slovakia, Tatiana and her daughters were hosted by a Calvinist church in one of the villages near Košice. For eight months, they had a safe haven there, but after a while they felt it was time for another change in order to stand on their own feet. That's when they learned about the Housing Assistance Programme of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Košice – a programme which has provided mid-term accommodation to 119 people from Ukraine, helping them rebuild their lives in Slovakia.
“We got a room and my older daughter started high school in Košice. The beginning wasn’t easy for her, but she has already made friends. They go for walks and shopping, they hang out with boys and make nice memories,” says Tatiana with a smile.
In the meantime, Tatiana's mother-in-law has also come to Slovakia. She helps babysit her younger daughter, Daryna, so that Tatiana can go to work in a gardening centre near Košice. It's not her dream job, but it is a good source of income for now and it gives her confidence.
“We are looking for an apartment for the four of us. Maria needs more privacy now, she's almost an adult. We've been on a few viewings and hope to find something suitable soon,” says Tatiana.
An IOM social worker accompanies them on apartment visits to help them communicate with landlords. IOM assistance has also included legal and social counselling, job counselling, housing advice, Slovak language courses, psychological support, as well as information about cultural, social and other aspects of life in Slovakia.
Tatiana has seen her husband about four times over the past year. The memory of him brings tears to her eyes, which she tries to suppress with laughter, apologizing. “My husband and my father-in-law are now temporary bachelors,” she smiles through her tears. “But our family business is helping the Ukrainian army, supplying them with materials and assisting with logistics,” Tatiana adds with pride.
Moving forward, Tatiana wants to fulfil an old dream – to become a graphic designer. She is taking a graphic design course online and should complete it soon. At the same time, she is attending the Slovak language courses organized by IOM and hopes that they will make her more employable on the local labour market.
“The accommodation we received through IOM is like a protective wall for us, behind which we feel safe,” says Tatiana. “The IOM social workers help us in our search for an apartment, a job, doctors, schools,” she adds.
Tatiana doesn't make long-term plans. Over the past year, she learned that things can be quite unpredictable. For now, she has settled for short-term goals. The most immediate one is finding an apartment to rent.
“In the beginning, this housing option was great for us, but now it's time to move on and try to live a normal life,” concludes Tatiana. She is confident that with her salary, and possible support from her husband, she will be able to financially manage housing and a living for the entire family.
Despite a long and difficult year, full of unexpected changes, life is starting to gradually get back on track for Tatiana and her family.