The Violence in Ukraine will not end with a Fighter Jet

A Ukrainian woman shares her story of survival with me in 2018.

It was 2018 when I was first interested in learning more about the violence happening in Eastern Ukraine. Russia had been inciting conflict in the region since 2015 and at the point in which I went it was treated mostly as an old news story. But that old news story came with some very high statistics.

75% of women reported some form of violence by the age of 15 and one in three reported physical or sexual abuse.

As Christina Lamb uncovers in her book Our Bodies Their Battlefield and in her recent TEDxLondonWomen talk, women have been weapons of war and conflict for as long as war has existed. But what was happening three years ago wasn’t incited by those on the other side of the battlefield, but as a twisted resolve to the ongoing conflict. The violence that was being experienced outside on the battlefield was being brought inside many, many homes.

The issue was so invasive that secret shelters were popping up around the conflict areas to provide possibly the only living alternative for women. I got to speak with one woman who shared her story with me, and until now I’ve left this story buried in my archives. I am sharing it now as a reminder that the violence will not end with a fighter jet or a cease fire. There was already a lot of work to be done.

He was not always filled with aggression and greed.

I have been married to my husband for 17 years, and we are 15 years apart in age. After I gave birth to our daughter I developed a chronic illness and could only focus on raising my daughter and mostly kept to myself at home. A consequence of my illness was I became Deaf and wasn’t able to handle my daughter and work outside our home at the same time. I did not go back to work.

My daughter grew up very self-reliant, independent and maybe even a bit defiant in some cases and my husband and I got into horrible conflicts because of our daughter. It wasn’t just me though, he started showing violence towards her. If I protected her, he just attacked me as well. Our home life was absolutely unbearable.

This Spring he beat our daughter so much that she was hospitalised with a nervous breakdown. She stopped talking and a psychologist had to work with her.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s his age, maybe he’s just an abusive character but that person is so abusive and so greedy.

I couldn’t keep in my emotions any more. I became unbalanced, very nervous. My emotional state was broken and so was my daughter’s but it’s not just that it was broken or that we were living in constant stress all the time.

I was simply afraid that at some point I will just…

We couldn’t bear living under one roof any longer, he became indifferent to our problems, stopped being a part of the family. All he did all the time was yell and wallop. Eventually my daughter started talking back.

My daughter is a multi-faceted person, and I could not wait for her to finish the ninth grade. One she finished that, we could leave. If she began tenth grade, it would mean suffering from the violence for another two years. He became a stranger to us and without support we couldn’t wait until my daughter finished her ninth grade. But after she graduated we moved in with my grandmother in a small city, but it wasn’t suitable for my daughter so after a summer there we left. We went to Kharkiv for entrance exams, she enrolled in the musical department and we were able to get her a room in a college dorm.

I am a person with a disability being hard of hearing makes my situation complex. I’ve lived with it for 16 years, it’s as if I am in a vacuum.

At 46 it’s difficult to start anew or maybe it’s just because my psychological state feels so broken. I felt I couldn’t find answers anywhere until I found this shelter by accident. I was staying with friends when I saw an article written about these shelters and that one had just opened in Kirovograd. But somehow I didn’t think I could actually stay here. My friend found the exact location for me through a mobile team and so that’s how I first arrived.

At first it was scary, I didn’t know where I was going or what was awaiting for me here, how people would great me, what the conditions were like or how I would adapt. When I arrived I was in a horrible mental state and I feared everything that was unfamiliar. People here were strangers, nobody will care about me or my problems — my age and being deaf.

When I got here, everybody was interested in me. Everybody. I received such a warm welcome.

First of all, I am grateful to the psychologist she worked a lot with me and my daughter. I used to cry all the time, I was constantly obsessed with my thoughts and had no solutions to it. It was as if I couldn’t deal with life around me and I was in my own world. The people here made me feel less alone.

It’s not a place you can just walk in off the street though, there is a reason it’s safe. But it dies not mean that we sit here locked up like we’re in a cage or that we don’t have rights here. This place awakened my soul a bit and thanks to this I am pulling myself together. I am not strong but I am trying very hard. I just feel I am supported and when I come back here from work I actually want to come back.

Really, a woman feels herself a bit more and confident here. I say this about myself but I also talk to other women who stay here and everything really helps them. I know I cannot stay here forever, there are rules and a limited time I can stay here but it has given me the opportunity to live here, to earn a bit of money so I can stand on my own two feet and rent a room for myself somewhere. Before I was in a deadlock with no where else to go. Now I need to be strong so I can live for my daughter.

I want to continue to amplify these voices. If anyone who is currently displaced due to the war in Ukraine is interested in sharing their story with me, please reach out to me on twitter, instagram or email me: labrown@collaborateideasimages.com.

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