Ihor (15) is from Mykolaiv, Ukraine - a once peaceful city that has now become the scene of heavy fighting. When the fighting reached his home, Ihor and his mum fled with a white strip of clothing flowing from their car and the word ‘CHILDREN’ written in Russian across the side windows.
There was a lull in the fighting but they were afraid anyway. White flags had not always been respected and unexploded ammunition was visible from the car.
Ihor’s dad was driving the car, but he would have to return. This terrified Ihor the most.
Back in Ukraine, when the war had come closer, the family started sleeping in the bathroom of their home. Although there was hardly any space, it was the only room without windows. They ran an extension cable so they could charge their phones - for a teenager, nothing is more important.
Then, rockets and shells started flying over, nearby impacts rattling the house. They moved to the earth cellar in the garden where they normally store potatoes. Even in winter coats and hats, it was bitterly cold. Ihor’s parents recount how his face looked pale and thin under his yellow hat with its big pompom.
They picked up his aunt, niece, great-aunt, a Pekingese and a parakeet as they made their way to the border. Days later they would arrive in Cucuruznica - a village of 1,700 inhabitants in neighbouring Moldova. Luckily, they were able to seek refuge with an old family friend.
Here in Moldova, the family find a small amount of comfort in the peace and quiet that the rolling hills bring. Every yard has its own dog and every family their own vineyard. Ihor sits close to his mum and is even more quiet than the average teenage boy when in the company of adults.
His dad calls or texts them from Ukraine twice a day. In the mornings, Ihor attends class via Zoom - exactly like during the pandemic. His classmates are in many countries across Europe and they only meet on screen or in school chat groups. Ihor speaks Russian at home and like most of his friends is enrolled in a Russian-language school, but he and his friends have unanimously decided that they don’t want to follow these classes anymore.
An Escape From Reality
As War Child protection and psychological first aid specialists make their way to Moldova as part of our emergency response, the local church, municipality and villagers have banded together to offer informal support to a handful of refugee families.
Ihor and his family are extremely grateful for the warm welcome they have received, but it’s hard to ignore the daily headlines. When the TV is not tuned into the news and his aunt is not waxing lyrical about the “idiocy” of the war, Ihor is on his PlayStation. In his haste to leave his home, he forgot to pick up his FIFA disc - something he regularly kicks himself for.
Instead, he plays Fortnite, a shooting game and perennial favourite among his friends. Unlike his real life, in the game he can use his skills to find munition and build a fortress for protection. Here, just for a moment, he is the master of his own survival.