Over the past year, our local churches have often been the meeting places for Ukrainian refugee guests. This is where Dieter Shaw, a Rotarian from Amersham in Buckinghamshire first met Ganna.
The story of her flight to England is one of thousands as we watch the war in Eastern Europe from a safe distance.
But as the ongoing Ukraine war diminishes in our collective awareness, it is worth remembering the struggles which still threatens the lives of those wishing to escape the inferno and, once safety has been achieved, how they often face another struggle for shelter.
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Here is Anna’s story
My name is Anna Fedorenko. I, my husband and our eight-year-old autistic son were born and lived all our lives in Mariupol by the Azov Sea. My mother, Maria, also lived in retirement in the city in a block of flats where all the residents were close friends.
We had a good life. I was a wedding planner, my husband was a videographer.
When the war started we couldn’t leave the city because we didn’t have a car and we couldn’t leave behind my blind mother-in-law.
There was some food available as a bombed-out food shop was in the vicinity, but it was very dangerous to go and get the food.”
For a month we lived under constant bombardment with no electricity or heating in sub-zero temperatures inside our flats. We only ate once or twice a day as we had very little food and drained the radiators for water to drink.
We hid in the basement whenever we heard airplanes as we knew that meant more bombs would fall and only slept on the floor. We tried to sit in the hallway with neighbours to generate body heat together to keep warm.
We ate, slept and walked in the same clothes and were unable to wash during this time. All the trees in our street were cut down because people had to cook on open fires in the street.
Being outside was dangerous and two new cemeteries appeared behind our block. The constant bombardment and rocket fire caused many buildings to be destroyed or catch fire so it was a miracle that ours did not catch fire as well.
On March 23rd last year we decided to leave Mariupol on foot. Everything we passed was destroyed. We lived in a flat in Dnipro for a week but then that was bombed too. We moved to Odesa to wait for our British visas but then rockets hit that city and I just thought “Really, again?!”
My mother, Maria, was in a different part of Mariupol and we couldn’t reach her. She was living in the basement of her block of flats with another 150 people – her neighbours.
There was some food available as a bombed-out food shop was in the vicinity, but it was very dangerous to go and get the food.
My mother-in-law’s house was hit, and she was buried by parts of the house falling on her. She was pulled out from the rubble. In a month my mother’s house and basement burnt down.
My younger brother who lived in Kyiv bought a car and drove to Mariupol to rescue my mother and my mother-in-law.
He risked his life to save them, took them out of the occupied city. A week later he died in Kyiv, the cause of death has not been established.
My mother-in-law now is in Odesa with her daughter. My mother’s block of flats was badly damaged and now she has seen photos showing that it has been bulldozed by the Russians who are building “show houses” in the area for propaganda purposes.
Finally, we got to England and were housed by our wonderful sponsors, the Barretts, and Maria was nearby in another house.
The constant bombardment and rocket fire caused many buildings to be destroyed or catch fire so it was a miracle that ours did not catch fire as well.”
After six months, our sponsors were unable to continue to house us but we have just been moved into a house in High Wycombe with a new sponsor and so my mom Maria can be together with me and my son. We have a home again for six months.
Now we are applying to schools which will be able to support my son Mark and give him stability and then I hope to be able to work. My husband got to Ireland and was issued a visa for the UK last August.
Unfortunately, the local council has said it is impossible to find housing with my husband, so at the moment we are still apart, and he is living in Ireland. I don’t know when my son can see his father.
My greatest fear is being homeless and losing everything again. I have only one dream which is the same as my whole country that we will win, because good always triumphs over evil.