“We thought we’d stay for two weeks and now it’s been over a month already,” says Viktoria, a mother of two from the south of Ukraine. Viktoria and three of her close friends, each with two children, fled the war in Ukraine and found shelter in SOS Children’s Village in Bucharest.
“The uncertainty is scary,” Viktoria says. “Back home we had our lives, our full families. We had plans—some for the weekend, others for the summer or for next year. If a plan fell through, we had somewhere to go back to. Now, we don’t know what to do next. Should we plan? Plan for what? What can we go back to?”
“February 24—the day the war started—was a shock,” says Hanna, one of Viktoria’s friend. “You don’t expect to wake up, grab what you can, take your children and leave without knowing when you’d get back. That initial shock has passed now, but the fear or the uncertainty remains.”
“Our husbands are in Ukraine,” says Viktoria. “Our parents and relatives are there. I talk to my husband every day. He’s alone now. It appears as if the situation toughened him, but I can tell he’s sad. He misses our children, he misses me and he misses our life together. I miss him and our children miss their dad. You go through life as a family, and then suddenly you must make a choice that leaves you alone. That is difficult for everyone."
“My parents tell me not to worry,” says Natalia, another one of Viktoria’s friends. “They say they’ve gotten used to the new normal of shooting, shelling and air raid sirens. My mom says she doesn’t even wake up to the sound of sirens any more. ‘Whatever happens is my destiny,’ she says to me, and tells me to take good care of her grandchildren.”
Together at the SOS Children’s Village
The four mothers and their children came to SOS Children’s Village in Bucharest through a contact in the company where one of them worked. That company’s Romanian branch happened to be a corporate partner of SOS Children’s Villages in Romania.
“Our wish was to stay together, but we were almost sure that no one would agree to have eight children, ages three to 15, and four adults in the same apartment or house. We are thankful to SOS Children’s Villages for having us all stay in the same house. We feel much more comfortable when we’re together. We can support and comfort each other,” says Hanna.
She adds that her sister and her parents managed to get to Romania and will soon join them in the same house in the SOS Children’s Village in Bucharest. “It will be such a relief to have them here,” Hanna says.
Childhood upside down
The eight children seem to get along, at least judging by the sound of giggles and stomping feet coming from the rooms.
“Their daily routine has drastically changed,” explains Lena, the mother of the oldest 15-year-old girl. “Their lives have turned upside down. At first, they were confused that they had to stay in one room with me, without their own place or privacy. Now it’s better, and they have adapted to the reality.
“My teenage daughter was a bit problematic. I had her speak with a psychologist online, and she came to accept our new reality, at least for the time being.”
No school again
The school-age children attend online classes held by their teachers who remain in Ukraine. The mothers say their children hardly learn anything. “They are at different ages and in different classes which are all held at different times,” says Viktoria. “There is no one-time period when all school-age children are busy. Someone is always free to play which is distracting to the ones following classes.
“Another much harder circumstance is that the classes are often interrupted by air raid sirens. At the beginning this upset them, but now they just calmly say ‘no school again.'”
Following the year of online schooling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukrainian children went back to school, only to have their education cut again this time by having to run for their lives. Still, these four moms don’t give up on their children’s education.
What children need
“We all work with them to cover each lesson or subject,” says Hanna. “But it’s not enough. They need textbooks, working books and to practice tasks in Ukrainian language, like they had back home. That is not available in Romania yet.”
“The children also need sports,” adds Natalia. “My children took martial arts back home, and I would really like to see them continue with that or similar sport. Some of the girls took dancing lessons back home. Basically any structured physical activity will be good for them.”
“Also drawing and sculpting,” Lena continues. “This would be something we can do together with the children because age doesn’t really matter for drawing and sculpting. I see a big need for this for my teen daughter. There are no children her age in the village, Ukrainian or Romanian. She connects with her friends from home online, but it’s not the same. Most of the time she feels alone and isolated.”
Need to heal
Asked if they need psychological support for themselves, in unison the moms all say yes.
“We may appear strong and resilient, and perhaps to some point we are. Each one of us has to be both mother and father here. We need to appear strong for our children’s well-being. But you often read something, see something or hear something, and it breaks you down. The hard truth hits you—you are far away from home, without your partner and you don’t know if and when you can go back. You start to cry. The nights are especially hard. That’s when you realize how badly you need psychological help.”
After a heavy moment of silence, Viktoria lifts up the mood. “We also need language classes, both English and Romanian, and some sports for ourselves, like riding bicycles or taking fitness classes. We need to keep active and busy.”
Mom’s hug and a good laugh
Whenever possible, the four moms take their children to the parks in Bucharest. “The parks here are simply lovely,” Viktoria says. “We also went to the Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History—the children loved it. We try to go on as many outings as possible. This keeps us busy, the children learn new things and we all have fun.”
About SOS Children's Villages in Romania
SOS Children’s Villages in Romania is sheltering Ukrainian children and families in all three SOS Children’s Villages in Bucharest, Cisnadie and Hemeiusi. As of March 26, 2022, there are 16 children and seven parents from Ukraine staying at SOS Children’s Village in Bucharest.
SOS Children’s Villages in Romania plans to scale up their support to Ukrainian children and families by offering different services and in-kind support at all three locations.
Privacy Note: All names and locations have been changed.