The long journey home

Anastasiia Pavlenko, 28, and her family initially left their house in Stanytsia Lunanska, eastern Ukraine, for just one month. Yet, it eventually took them more than two years to return.  

Photo: Anastasiya Karpilyanska, NRC

“We were married in 2010 and our son Artiom was born a year later. By that time, we had a plot of land on which to construct our house.  We spent all we had to build it. Shortly after we moved in, the war broke out. We had to flee our home, as it was too dangerous to stay,” Anastasiia recalls.

Protracted vacation

“Nobody expected that there would be a real war here. All seemed peaceful.  But, in summer of 2014, our town was heavily shelled, close to our parentsˈ house,” recounts Anastasiia.

The very next day she and her husband, Serhii, packed their bags and went to the Black sea for holidays. They hoped to wait until it was safe, and they could return to Stanytsia Luhanska. The family ended up in the city of Rostov, in southern Russia, where they stayed with relatives for almost two years.

Yearning for home

“We could not come back. We were very afraid, because we saw frightful images on TV.  As autumn approached, we became worried: we were running out of money and did not have warm clothes,” recalls Serhii. Every day they dreamed about their home.

But fate did not destine the Pavlenko family to return quickly: an artillery shell struck their house and destroyed it. The walls were all that remained after the fire. “It was a terrible feeling to learn you do not have home any more. Especially for my husband, who built it with his own hands. It seemed like the worst possible thing that could happen in life,” says Anastasiia bitterly.

Long-awaited assistance

Pavlenkoˈs parents, who remained in the home town, went many times to the local authorities asking for assistance to repair the house. They also turned to humanitarian organisations.

“This house was the only property we had. We were really anxious to repair it, whatever it would take. NRC provided us with construction materials and cash to hire workers. But we decided to spend all the money on building materials,” tells Anastasiia.

Photo: Anastasiya Karpilyanska, NRC

Moving in with a growing family

When Serhii started to rebuild the house, Anastasiia was pregnant with their second child. “My husband was so motivated to do the repairs before the birth of our daughter. It took him only 4 months to finish it,” Anastasiia smiles. Luckily, on 31 December, they moved straight from the maternity hospital into the new house. The family celebrated New Year in their new home, with their newborn daughter Aleksandra.  

“Unfortunately, the conflict is not yet over. Almost every evening we hear sounds of artillery. In the daytime, we live normal lives, look after our fruits and vegetables. My son goes to kindergarten, and my husband works with the local emergency rescue services.  We want to think the war will be over soon,” admits Anastasiia.

The Pavlenko family received assistance from NRC through funding provided by the UN Refugee Agency.

Armed conflict in eastern Ukraine has entered its fourth year. It has claimed the lives of 10,090 people, including 2,777 civilians; 23,966 have been injured. 

4.4 million people have been affected by the conflict, of whom some 3.8 million still require humanitarian assistance. Those deemed to be of most concern are civilians living along both sides of the front-line, the so-called “contact line.” There are some 1,59 million people registered as internally displaced. Widespread protection concerns prevail, as legislative and bureaucratic impediments deprive many people of access to social benefits, which, for many of them, is the only source of income to cover the basic cost of living.