When Safe Isn’t Enough: The Need to Return to Ukraine and Home
The Ukrainian refugees had finally reached a safe haven. Then things changed.
When the attacks began I joined a group on social media, a long, scrolling roster of Ukrainian women and children seeking refuge in the United Kingdom. The photos were different, but the messages were always the same.
Now there is war in our country.
Now we must leave our home.
Please help us.
I messaged the young woman because she hoped to join my own profession, a point of connection that might anchor us. Still studying for her psychology degree, she was already counselling refugees with trauma, a subject on which she was now an expert by experience. Her daughter loved ice skating as much as my own child, but in other ways they diverged. The little girl had begun covering her dolls at night with scraps of fabric to save them from explosions, and this my daughter had never done.
The husband could not come with the family to England, she said, but would stay behind in Kyiv to do what he could for home and country. Their beloved cats and dogs had been spirited to safer places, but he had promised to look after the solitary pet that remained: a geriatric hamster who preferred goat’s cheese and spiralised carrots when supply chains allowed.
Even as this stranger and I began our conversations, I quailed in the face of such a mammoth undertaking, such a commitment. But, I asked myself, why shouldn’t we offer our home as sanctuary?
Sometimes I like lying in the guest bedroom and looking at the new colour on the walls.
I might tread painfully on the little girl’s Lego. She might like my old nemesis, glitter.
When I’m in early Zoom meetings, the child might make noise as she leaves for school.
Meanwhile, bombs rained down on Kyiv, and atrocities were committed in Bucha, and the nature of my hesitations made me feel like an asshole.
They settled in with uncanny ease. We two mothers cooked food for one another and our children. We talked for many hours, in a hodge-podge of English, German, app-translated Russian and…