From Ukraine to Moldova, Finding Strength in My Children This Mother’s Day

Hear from one woman who found hope, strength, and support at a JDC refugee center in Moldova.

By Oksana Andreeva - Refugee | May 12, 2023

Oksana Andreeva spends some quality time with her son Lyova, 2, at the JDC refugee center in Moldova. Photo: Arik Shraga

When rockets fell on her native city, Oksana Andreeva knew it was time to leave. With JDC’s help, Andreeva took her daughter Zlata, 6, and her son Lyova, 2, to Moldova, where they found safe harbor at a JDC refugee center. There, they found peace, support, and hope for the future. This Mother’s Day, Andreeva reflects on her journey and how, amidst the crisis, JDC gave her the strength to be the best mother she could be.

Oksana Andreeva, pictured with her daughter Zlata, 6, and her son Lyova, 2, at the JDC refugee center in Moldova.

My motivation comes from my kids — I don’t have any other source. If it wasn’t for my kids, I wouldn’t have come here. 

At first, I couldn’t wrap my head around moving somewhere with two small children. But when you realize you’re already in danger, you somehow find the strength: There was no choice. 

My entire life was in Zaporizhzhia –– both my family and my work. I was trained as a rehabilitation therapist and a cosmetologist. Before Zlata was born, I worked in a children’s shop –– as a cashier, shop assistant, delivery person … everything. But when it turned out that Zlata was sick and couldn’t attend preschool, I had to stay home with her. I didn’t want to let my boss down, so I resigned and devoted my life to the children. 

Then the crisis began, and I knew we had to leave. 

The trigger was that there started to be shelling every night at the same time. My children are small — Zlata is 6 and my son Lyova is only 2. We explained to Zlata what the noises outside meant, what was happening. But she didn’t fully understand — at her age, she doesn’t really know what an explosion is or what kind of danger we were facing.

My first and only priority was protecting my children. I’d wake them up at night and we’d go into the hallway. But you realize that if a rocket hits, the hallway won’t save you. That was the breaking point, and we decided to leave. 

If the decision was difficult, our journey was thankfully relatively seamless. When we arrived in Dnipro, a JDC volunteer was waiting for us. He loaded our things on his own and told us that everything would be all right, that we would get there safely. 

I was afraid for my children. There was heavy shelling that day. But the driver calmed us down, and if I needed to stop and feed Zlata and Lyova, we stopped — no questions asked. 

The very next day, he took us to the Ukraine-Moldova border. When we crossed, JDC was there again, with a bus waiting to take us to the refugee center. We got on and they loaded all our things — again, no questions asked.

We’re very happy that they settled us here in the forest, and I’m so happy my children can walk in the park and breathe fresh air. My daughter has epilepsy, and it’s very good for her to always be outside. I think this is a much better place for children than the city. Basically, I like it here because my children like it here, and that’s why it’s great for me, too. When they’re OK, I’m OK –– I’m at peace.

The most important thing for me now is to take my children to a place where they won’t hear the sounds of missiles––for them to go to preschool, interact with other kids, play.

Everything’s paid for. Whatever we need, we put it down on the list and they bring us everything. And I’m thankful for Lilya — the owner of the hotel JDC rents for us refugees — for welcoming us, listening to our requests, and encouraging us. 

Lilya is a very good person — she has a huge heart. In the winter, she gave us heaters because the rooms were still cold. She’ll sit down and find out what you need, how best to arrange our room so we feel at home. The food is very good, too, and she always asks if my children have eaten enough. 

In short, I feel comfortable here. But of course, I would like to be at home, because east or west, home is best. Zlata sometimes hears a song, her favorite Ukrainian tune, and she remembers her father and grandmothers. And then she starts to cry.

The most important thing for me now is to take my children to a safe place where they won’t hear the sounds of missiles — for them to go to preschool, for them to interact with other children, for them to play on the playground. 

It all comes down to my kids. Because JDC has been there for me, I can be there for them. 

That’s what keeps me going. 

Oksana Andreeva is a refugee from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

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