Olga’s Chronicles: Day 60 of War

“I want to thank for you and your donors…I went to the shop and I managed to buy everything they needed for kitchen and pillows. Without your donations I couldn’t afford to do that”

Olga is organising shelter for internally displaced families in western Ukraine. She has mobilised local support from her fellow villagers to transform the premises, formerly offices, into homes. She has been chronicling her experience of the war so far, view Olga’s Chronicles.

Please help Olga to help others and donate to her Go Fund Me.

24th April 2022

Below is a conversation between Olga and Marie Gillespie that took place on Sunday 24th April, Easter Sunday in Ukraine.

Olga: Hello and Happy Easter! Nice to see you again!

Marie: Yes, Happy Easter Olga. It’s lovely to talk to you and thank you for making the time.

Olga: I would really like to talk more to you but it’s just so busy all the time. You know I have a small child of 3 years old and son of 18, two cats, the farm, goats, family, work and the shelter and the people who come to the shelter.

Olga's Chronicles: Days 28-35 of War 7
Olga’s goat. Image courtesy of Olga.

Olga: Even today on Easter Sunday I was at the shelter because yesterday one new family came and she’s old woman 83 years with her granddaughter who is 38. It’s very heart-breaking story as this old woman lost her daughter and son-in-law. They came from Kharkiv and they were so upset and crying. They were even crying because they have no special Easter cake (for our eastern Easter). They have a room in the shelter, but no shower so I asked the girl to come to our house yesterday to take shower because and I gave her our own Easter cake and Easter eggs so today they were able to go to the church and celebrate Easter.

Olga: Everyday is like this you know – something happening all the time. They told me I have no small spoons for the tea and need some kitchen utensils so I want to thank for you and your donors for your money as its so good to be able to help people when they ask for something. I went to the shop and I managed to buy everything they needed for kitchen and pillows. Without your donations I couldn’t afford to do that you know. I also paid for one woman for her medicines and she was so relieved. Yesterday I bought an inhaler for one of the children in the shelter. And we paid for the electricity. We also managed to get the Internet at the shelter so people can now stay in touch with family. That was so nice you know. I have no rest because everyday somebody from the shelter will text me wrote to me that they are upset, crying – they say, ‘something is wrong with my mood’, so I just take my bike and go I go there it’s quite – 1.5 km. yesterday the grandmother and daughter who had just arrived were so upset and they called me. So I went to them – just to listen.

Olga: We now also have Art Therapy at our shelter thanks to support from a local NGO!

Olga: You know how it’s difficult just to leave your house even when the bombs are going off. And the grandmother and granddaughter said, they had just hoped that they wouldn’t get killed but then they lost the rest of their family. What can you say? You should have left earlier? No, you can’t say that even if you think it. They were waiting and waiting to see what would happen and wasting their time but they waited too long. I understand their feelings and understand why they decide to stay home but still.

Marie: Last time we spoke you also had a grandmother with a much younger granddaughter staying in the shelter?

Olga: Yes [laughs] we have a a lot of grandmothers. I have three big rooms in the shelter remember? In one room we have [in Ukrainian] three Babushkas all with granddaughters of different ages. One small girl also lives in that room so she reminds them how to be small girl. The second room we call the teenagers room. One family is a mother and her son is 17 years old. Another mother came with two children 12 and 19. Another room is single people. What is interesting in this abnormal war situation is how people maintain some normality. One woman I have observed, she has many different face creams and beauty masks and she performs a kind of beauty ritual every day. It makes you understand how she had another life where fitness, make-up attractive self-presentation was really important to her. You imagine this previous life from how she talks, the way she moves  and you know she has a cat called Garfield that she brought with her exactly like in the movie.

Marie: I believe many Ukrainian people brought their pets when they fled. I guess when people arrive at your shelter, they are experiencing varying degrees of trauma and that must be hard?

Olga: I wait until people are ready to talk to me. I never ask questions. I always ask them to sit down and say, “let’s have a cup of tea or let’s make coffee”, and then I tell them some of my stories and then people – you know – they relax, and they start talking about themselves. I’ve never asked something special.

Marie: Yeah, that’s a good of sensitive approach Olga. It’s very hard sometimes knowing how to proceed with people who are suffering trauma. So how do people discover the shelter?

Olga: The local authority have all these numbers of shelters and I post on Facebook – I write that I have a room and the babushka and granddaughter yesterday came from Facebook  – my friend gave her my number.

Hand-painted Easter eggs. Image courtesy of Olga.

Marie: Is Easter Sunday important to you? Do you celebrate Easter?  

Olga: I’m an atheist but I like this tradition – for me, this good this is a good tradition. I like all those different eggs, all those cakes. But this year I can’t feel Easter but I have a small boy, so we decided to decorate eggs and we took the basket to the church and even though we were late, the priest came out and blessed us so my boy was happy.

Marie: Aww Olga that was sweet – you are so kind – I can’t imagine where you get the energy to do all the things you do!

Olga: My mother says that I’m always talking to people – maybe too much – but I’m a sociable person and I always say to my mother – look, you see, it’s because I talk to people that I can help people. For example, today, I can go to the shop and if I forgot the money or maybe the banks are not giving out cash, the shopkeepers say, ‘don’t worry. don’t worry, take it, take I, take it, and give me money when you can’. It’s always like this and this keeps you going the friendliness and kindness of local neighbours.

Marie: So that’s how you stay so positive in this terrible war situation?

Olga: The whole of this situation this war is very difficult. It’s totally a very big problem and you know I think it’s a very big mistake to put all that in my head that’s why I always try to do these things – maybe small things – I don’t have to think about this. Also I was thinking that all my people who live now in shelter are family for me yeah I really love them and I of course I am so sad when the leave left the shelter and when I think about this I cry but when the moment that they are leaving comes and they are crying,  nothing comes out of me. I can’t cry because they are crying and I have to be strong but when I am alone, I cry.

Marie: Have you had many leave the shelter now after 2 months?

Olga: I don’t count them to be honest. Two families went back home and then three new families came. One woman’s sister took her to Poland – so many different stories. I remember all of them – some go back came back home, some to another country or to another place. But it’s difficult because when you get to know them, they leave. But you know what I say to them all? I say “when we win this war, you will all come back to our shelter and we will celebrate, first our victory, and then together we will go to mountains.”

Carpathian Mountains near Babyn. Image courtesy of Marco Fieber.

Marie: Can I come?

Olga: [laughs] yes of course. The mountains are near here, 1-2 hours by bus and they are lovely. In fact, you can see mountains from my house yeah but, now you know, you have no mood to go to the mountains. When people are in this situation, they have no mood to enjoy the mountains.

Marie: Of course, but one day that is a great plan. And what about your 18 year old son? How is he? Will he be conscripted? Or is he able to study? You said he loves IT and computers and would like to go to university maybe but many universities are not functioning so it must be hard for him and his friends?

Olga: It’s a very difficult situation. The government they don’t allow young people to go abroad to study or allow men from 18 to 60 years old to leave the country. But it is a matter of choice – they can choose to go to war from age 18 or not.  The government try to save them. You know we are not like Russians sending boys to war. Ukraine understands that the young people need to educate and train and live their life. We have enough soldiers

Marie: I have taken enough of your time Olga.

Olga: I thank you so much for the donations.

Marie: No, no please, there’s no need for thanks. We all feel hopeless and helpless, so this is just a little something – a small thing.

Olga: But for us you know, it’s a really big help because our life is now about small, small things, you know, so thank you so much.

Marie: It’s always a great pleasure to talk to you Olga and we will go up that mountain and we will have a cup of tea together at your home and in mine. Bye for now.

Olga: Until next time.

If you want to help, you can go to these links to get more information:

Donate to help Olga: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-olga-help-internally-displaced-families

Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal: https://www.dec.org.uk/appeal/ukraine-humanitarian-appeal

How you can help from the UK by donating cash and supplies: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2022/mar/05/ukraine-crisis-how-you-can-help-donating-cash-supplies

Contact: [email protected]