A war-torn family battles an uncertain future


May 18, 2015

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  • After their village in eastern Ukraine was hit with shelling, Evia Kolotun escaped with her young daughters, 10-year-old Sasha (pictured) and 11-year-old Dasha. The photo album they clutch is one of few belongings they fled with. All photos: Brendan Hoffman for Mercy Corps

“In the middle of the night I woke up because of crashing. Even the window glasses were rattling,” recalls Evia Kolotun, 29. “We were alone in the flat, just me and our two girls, and our settlement was under heavy shelling.”

Evia’s husband Sergei had been called to join the army after conflict first erupted in Ukraine last year, leaving his wife and daughters behind in their village of Peredilsk, in Luhansk Oblast.

When shelling hit the family’s neighborhood one night shortly after, the electricity went out and the floors of their home cracked beneath them. They were frightened and confused. The community was in chaos. That was the night they decided to flee.

Now Evia and her daughters are just three of the 1.8 million people who have been displaced by ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine. Families like hers have been forced to abandon everything in search of refuge, taking shelter with host families or in abandoned buildings, and left to cope without basic necessities of food, shelter and household items.

That’s why we're on the front lines of the conflict in Luhansk and in host communities providing vital emergency supplies including food, blankets and hygiene kits — soap, toothpaste, laundry detergent — to those who need them most.

Like most of the displaced people in this area, Evia’s family escaped with little more than the clothes on their backs. And their journey to find safety was harrowing.

Terrified and often ostracized because of Sergei’s affiliation with the army, they fled to several different places in search of safety. The trek by car was dangerous and they had trouble finding a safe route. At one point, the family even sheltered in a dusty gravestone factory where they slept near baby pigs and stray dogs.

Eventually, a local man took pity on them and gave them shelter in his son’s unoccupied home in Zaporizhske, a relatively safe village not far from Peredilsk. The house is very basic and rundown. It has only two rooms — a kitchen and a living space that the family sleeps in together.

Evia and Sasha gather laundry outside the small house they've taken refuge in. Having fled their home village with very little, members of their host community have provided them with furniture and clothing.

“We felt it was temporary, that we wouldn’t be here long,” says Evia. “Now we have been here for 10 months.” When they fled in the summer, they didn't expect they'd need to get through winter away from home. Evia had to spend some of the family’s precious savings to buy winter coats and medicine just to get her daughters through the bitter season.

And now she must rely on help from others to support her family. Some sympathetic people in the community, which is already quite poor, have given her old furniture, some clothing and food, but Evia still has trouble making ends meet.

“I have no work. I went to an employment center and they said that there is a rubbish collector job, but who would look after my children?” Evia asks us. She is in desperate need of food, employment, clothing and cash to buy supplies. She told us in particular she needs help paying for the electricity and gas the family uses for heat.

Sasha (left) and Dasha (right) play with a neighbor at the house where they're living. The girls' father, a soldier, hasn't been heard from in seven months, and Evia is struggling to provide for their daughters alone.

Evia is slowly getting to know her neighbors and is very grateful for the help she has received from them. But she is visibly shaken by what her family has seen and how their life has changed.

The children have suffered during the tough times. They have nightmares, they wet the bed. They cannot understand why they can no longer have what they want and ask for,” she says. “And it is hard without my husband.”

To make matters worse, she hasn’t heard from Sergei in seven months. She doesn’t know where he is, or if he is even alive. “I have no one to talk to, no one to share my emotions with,” she says.

Evia is worried about Sergei and feels like her family is in limbo. She doesn’t know what is going to happen next. But we want families like Evia's to know they’re not alone in this crisis.

Mercy Corps is working hard to make sure the most vulnerable people have the emergency supplies they need. We're also planning to issue shelter repair kits and cash vouchers so they can pay for their heat and electricity. Through this continued support, we're committed to helping families affected by the conflict in Ukraine endure this time of great uncertainty.

How you can help

Make a gift to support Mercy Corps' work in Ukraine and many of the world's toughest places. You'll help families survive conflict and disaster and give them the support they need to improve their lives. Donate today ▸