“I remember when my friend called me at 5 am on February 24th and informed me that Kiev airport was under fire”, recalls Avankiats Olena who at the time was living in Bucha, in the Kiev region. She immediately knew she had to flee: “I am originally from Donetsk and I knew it was the beginning of the war, so I tried to think calmly and decided not to waste any time because I knew that near Bucha there is an airport and an important strategic point for the enemy. We started to gather ourselves to leave the country and decided to go to Romania.”
However, the journey to get there would not be easy. “I had to drive for about 25 hours without any possibility of change because there was only my mother and my children. I still remember this night when we tried to enter Mukachevo, a town near the border of Halmeo, to cross the border to Romania, and in that town, they created a block post. It took 10 hours to do 69 km”, underlines Avankiats Olena. Her story is replicated by thousands of mothers that drove similar or even more hours to get to this post and try to save their families. Thankfully at the border, she was pleasantly surprised by the helping open arms that received them. “When crossing the border, we found a very high hospitality from the Romanian people that we could never imagine receiving”, she expressed.
Once inside Romania, Avankiats Olena received help from JRS Romania, who have been offering a myriad of programmes to support Ukrainian refugees and displaced people since the start of the war. As she describes, “when I registered for the JRS program, I felt released and supported. It gave me time to look for a good job and learn the language, as well as to take care of my children. It also helps me to pay for my flat and my mother’s medicine. Without this help, it would be very difficult to continue in Romania”.
Beyond the tangible impact these programmes have had on her life, Avankiats Olena also highlighted the warmth of the staff and how that has helped her. “The support of the JRS means a lot to me! I want to thank the JRS team. They are very supportive and helpful people who do their best to help us. They try to lighten our days so that we can believe in tomorrow and they are very good at taking care of our children”.
While she does not know what the future has in store for her, Avankiats Olena wants to stay in Romania. “I don’t want to go back to Ukraine in the near future. I want to stay in Romania. It’s not the first country I’ve lived in, but it’s the first one where I feel rested and supported“, she concludes.
JRS is working together with the Xavier Network, Concordia Moldova, the Society of Jesus in Europe, local civil society, and NGOs in a coordinated Jesuit response. Together we help thousands of people like Avankiats Olena. You can read more about The One Proposal: the coordinated Jesuit response to support the Ukraine Crisis here.