ODESSA, Ukraine – It was five in the morning, and a devastating blast in the harbour jolted Olesia awake. As the frigid February air penetrates the small room, she puts on layers of clothing. She starts checking the news, as her phone freezes from the hundreds of notifications coming in on her messaging apps.
It was February 24th, 2022, and Olesia is six months pregnant. Doctors have told her she will have a baby girl, due in June 2022. Since finding out about the pregnancy, she has started buying baby clothes and small colourful toys.
She has imagined what her daughter would look like the day she is born. She imagined her baby’s first contact with this world, a world full of love and peace. A world that will make her curious and give her dreams to believe in and people to lean on.
“It never struck me that my child would not be raised in her native Ukraine,” says Olesia, her almond-shaped brown eyes filled with anguish.
Over the next four months, dozens more air alarms, explosions, and rocket launches took place, shattering once-massive buildings reduced to ruins.
People had three hours of electricity per day and three hours per night. “It was very cold, and sometimes we didn’t have access to running water,” recalls Olesia.
Every time the air raid alarm went off, Olesia put on a few layers and always carried a bag of food supplies. It sometimes took her more than twenty minutes to get to the nearest basement for shelter.
Once there, she would be trapped for hours in the freezing cold with a large group of other people. The basement’s drab gray walls were covered with mildew, and the air felt heavy.
People turned on their phone flashlights, as the room was pitch black.
“My child was born during an air raid,” shares Olesia. It was mid-June 2022 when little Elisa came into the world.
When an air-raid siren blasted on the day Elisa was born, the hospital stairwell was packed with women from the neonatal unit moving down to the bunker, a labyrinth of low-ceilinged hallways.
As women laid on the white mats on the floor, the corridors were transformed into makeshift observation and delivery rooms.
“Every day, I found myself racing to the basement with a little infant, just a month old, and staying for hours in the cold,” recalls Olesia.
“Because I couldn’t walk, they carried me into a portable bed whenever the alarm went off,” says she. “It was frightening,” the mother goes on.
Being pregnant and a mother during the war taught me that the cost of survival is tremendous, but the love I have for my child makes every challenge worthwhile.
A year after the war began, Olesia relocated to Constanta, Romania in February 2023 with her one-year-old daughter.
“Being pregnant and a mother during the war taught me that the cost of survival is tremendous, but the love I have for my child makes every challenge worthwhile,” shares she.
Olesia applied for World Vision’s cash assistance program in Romania, funded by Giro555, allowing her to receive multi-purpose cash.
Giro555 supports the cash assistance program for elderly protection, aimed at helping people over 60 with additional income, as well as the cash assistance for child protection, which is open to children under the age of 17.
“This money will be a lifeline for us, allowing me to provide decent food, diapers, and a secure place to sleep for my little one,” says Olesia.
She adds, “Every dime matters now, especially since I’m unemployed. Elisa is only one year old.”
Since the start of the war, World Health Organization reports more than 1000 attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine. Without power, running water, or midwives to assist them, women in war-torn cities across the country have been forced to give birth in frigid bunkers or subway stations packed with people.
To date, World Vision has reached around 480,000 women in Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, and Georgia.
Over 286,000 Ukrainian refugees have been supported by World Vision Ukraine Crisis Response in Romania. Ukrainian families have received aid for their basic needs, education, psychological support, cash assistance, health care, and protection.
Story and photos by Laurentia Jora, Romania and Moldova Communications Coordinator