It was meant t o be a surprise. It was a cold February morning, but the joy of an upcoming moment that might make a difference in someone's life was warming IOM staff’s hearts as they drove the package to the Humanitarian Centre in Gabčíkovo, Southern Slovakia. They had prepared everything in the IOM office. 

A simple but elegantly dressed lady in her 70s peeked into the room and walked in, unsure what to expect.  

Tetiana is 74 and still full of energy and temperament. Now that her health has improved, she wants to rebuild her dreams. Photo © VLADIMIR SKUTA

Tetiana visited Kharkiv once when she was 16, and since then, she has never forgotten the beautiful city in north-eastern Ukraine. She graduated in history at Donetsk University in the southeast of Ukraine. There, she met her future husband, and together, they started a family in her hometown, Konstyantynivka. "We lived a normal life, and we liked it," says Tetiana, and her eyes sparkle with delight as memories flash back. Their children, Dasha and Kateryna, grew up and, to Tetiana's delight, chose to study at universities in her beloved Kharkiv. Later on, Dasha followed her love abroad while Kateryna stayed in Kharkiv.

As time passed, Tetiana longed to return to Kharkiv. The city had charmed her once, and she had always wanted to return. At age 57, she moved there with her husband to fulfil her dream and be closer to her daughter and grandchildren.

After Tetiana’s husband died in 2017, Tetiana felt she lost her rock. Frequent respiratory illnesses combined with seizures induced by the stress of losing her spouse deteriorated her health, and along with her asthma diagnosis, prescribed medication and oxygen therapy popped in. Although she stabilized later, she remained dependent on medical treatment. 

The family led a calm life until 24 February 2022, when explosions, gunfire and lethal drones began to shake the country, homes and everyone in Ukraine. “I did not believe that Russia could invade Ukraine at all,” says Tetiana’s daughter Kateryna, speaking very good Slovak. As a graduate pharmacist in Ukraine, she first worked in herbal preparations research, where she even became a co-author of one a patents.

The blows of life, especially the stress of war, took their toll on Tetiana. She was put under medical surveillance at the Humanitarian Centre. Regular access to therapy, allowed her condition to stabilize.  

Hoping that the hostilities would soon be over, Tetiana, with her family and friends, spent the first weeks hiding in the basement of their multi-storey block of flats. However, the stress, the uncertainty, and the cold, damp basement made breathing difficult for her. Tetiana, her daughter and her two grandchildren packed some essentials and headed towards Slovakia. In mid-March, they arrived at the Humanitarian Centre in Gabčíkovo, south of Slovakia. 

The hope that the war in Ukraine would end in a couple of days, weeks, perhaps months, and they would soon return home progressively gave way to the need to organize their lives anew. Kateryna found work in a non-governmental organization based in the Humanitarian Centre.

Thanks to IOM Slovakia and its implementation partner Equita, Tetiana received an oxygen concentrator, which she couldn't have afforded otherwise. Photo © International Organization for Migration (IOM) 2024

Tetiana used to come to the IOM office for social counselling. Since January 2024,  she has not been feeling well. The medical service at the Centre had closed and she lacked oxygen. With support from its partner Equita, IOM Slovakia was able to donate Tetiana an oxygen concentrator.

Tetiana can now breathe freely and does not need to worry too much about seizures. Photo © International Organization for Migration (IOM) 2024

Once impacted by war, one can never fully escape its shadow. It stays in the background of everyday life, in the subconscious. Tetiana felt that she could not stay stranded in this situation. She made like-minded friends at the Humanitarian Centre, and together, they formed a singing and dancing group called “Nadeja,” which means “Hope.”   

Kateryna is preparing for the supplementary exam in pharmacy and wants to find a job in the field. Photo © International Organization for Migration (IOM) 2024

Tetiana's daughter Kateryna enrolled in Slovak language courses organized by IOM at the Centre. Thanks to IOM's support and Kateryna's perseverance, her university diploma was recognized by Slovak authorities, and she is now preparing herself for an additional exam that will allow her to become a pharmacist. "It is easier to think about life with a decent job," Kateryna muses. Her new ideals are simple: to have housing, a job in her field, and to see her children in school.

Today, Tetiana is 74 and still full of energy. She feels confident that her health will improve, and that she can still rebuild her dreams stolen by the war.

IOM Slovakia was present in the Humanitarian Centre in Gabčíkovo from March 2022 to March 2024. About 2,500 women, men and children, including elderly people and people with disabilities, received accommodation at the Centre after having fled the war in Ukraine. IOM supported the day-to-day management of   the Centre, and provided shuttle transport, social, labour and legal counselling, as well as mental health and psychosocial assistance. IOM also distributed humanitarian assistance, delivered awareness raising sessions on safe jobs and protection against sexual exploitation and abuse, organized community activities, and ran Slovak language courses.