Unlike thousands of refugees fleeing Ukraine, Yulia was desperate to get back. She had just received news that her son, a soldier, had been killed.
“I will never forget the day I heard about his death,” Yulia said. “My son, Ignat, he was most wonderful. When my husband died, Ignat was only nine. He would always help, taking his little sister, Victoria, to school, catching fish to sell. One time, he sold his motorcycle to buy me a gift for Mother’s Day!”
At the very least, Yulia thought in anguish, she could try to recover his body. But more than that, she wanted to save her sixteen-year-old daughter who was still trapped in Mariupol. Yulia felt that she had no choice but to leave the safety of Poland and, against the tide of evacuees, return to Ukraine.
Memories of her son competed with anxious thoughts about her daughter. Victoria had remained in their small village in southeastern Ukraine when Yulia left for Poland to find work to support the family. When Russia invaded, Victoria went to the city of Mariupol where her grandmother lived. After a time, she tried to return to her village, but found it occupied by Russian soldiers, their house destroyed, their belongings looted.
“She hid in broken-down houses,” Yulia said. “When she got back to Mariupol, her clothes were shredded, torn by flying fragments of glass from the shelling. Things got worse and worse. As she traveled, she was turned back many times.”
Victoria hoped to make it to Zaporizhzhia, where many refugees were gathering on their journey to the western borders. But it was not easy to find transportation. Day after day, she was turned away. “Hold on,” her mother told her, “I am coming.”
Yulia made it to Dnipro where her son’s body lay. There, she was given a small Ukrainian flag, in memory of Ignat. She added it to her small backpack, where a pair of sweatpants were wrapped around her documents. Then she carried on to Zaporizhzhia, in hopes of being reunited with Victoria.
As she arrived in Zaporizhzhia, Yulia was caught in a cold downpour. In addition to her clothes being soaking wet, she was exhausted, and her health was failing. Victoria was still in Berdyansk, several hours away. At a collection point, Yulia begged for help in evacuating her daughter from Berdyansk, only to be told that there were no green corridors of safety—no one was willing to risk the drive.
“People told me to wait in Zaporizhzhia,” Yulia said, “but wait where? I knew no one in the city. I had nowhere to stay.”
Yulia felt that she had no choice but to leave the safety of Poland and, against the tide of evacuees, return to Ukraine.
Then one of the volunteers at the collection point made a call to a new shelter he had heard about, the New Hope Center. This ministry of Multiply in Ukraine had just renovated their center to accommodate refugees, with offices as dorms, classrooms as storage rooms, and a shower. The center had served for years as a ministry to families in crisis and, now in a time of war, the staff were determined to rise to the challenge.
“They sent a man named Yuri,” Yulia related, “a man led by God, sent to me by God.” Yuri took Yulia to the New Hope Center where, overwhelmed and exhausted, she fell sick. The kindness with which she was cared for still brings her to tears. “I will remember them,” she said, “all my life.”
At the center, volunteers found a way to evacuate Yulia’s daughter from Berdyansk. As the days dragged on, Yuri and others prayed with her, encouraging her to trust in God. Finally, she was told that her daughter was en route to Zaporizhzhia.
“I went right away to pray with Yuri,” Yulia said. “We prayed all evening, then again, all the next morning. We prayed for her to pass every checkpoint. Each time she did, she would call. Then we looked at the map and prayed for the next checkpoint.”
At last, mother and daughter were reunited. They embraced fiercely, tears streaming down their cheeks. Like any mother, she immediately worried that her child was too thin.
“My daughter was starving!” she said forcefully. “No food, hiding in basements, sick with fever! Dead people everywhere—adults, children. This we had seen before, in 2014, but then I had been with her. I could not bear to think of her going through this without me!”
At the New Hope Center, Yulia and Victoria recovered. “When I was there, they showed me tulips in a jar,” said Yulia. “What? When had tulips bloomed? I was constantly crying and worried, I did not see this happen. I went outside and birds were chirping, the grass was already green. Spring had come, and I had not even noticed! Next time, I want us to notice, to see when spring returns to Ukraine.”
Eventually, the staff at New Hope Center helped Yulia and her daughter to leave Ukraine and return to Poland. Their mission was to send them on their way with new hope in God’s care and in the power of Jesus to heal and to save. Although trauma has left Victoria constantly afraid and unable to sleep, the resiliency of the Ukrainian people is also evident as mother and daughter work to forge a future for themselves. “I will work, she will study,” Yulia stated firmly. “We are together. I want my daughter to heal, to grow, to know beauty in her life.”
Written by Nikki White
Nikki White serves as a writer with Multiply and also oversees Prayer Mobilization. She and her husband, Scott, are a part of North Langley Community Church in Langley, B.C.
Pray / Give
Pray for peace in Ukraine. Praise God that, despite the ongoing war, people like Yulia and Victoria are finding hope and healing.
For recent updates about Multiply’s response to the war in Ukraine, including prayer requests and giving opportunities, go to multiply.net/ukraine-in-crisis.