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Ukraine: “I tried to hide in a cellar when a bomb hit my yard” — Ivanna

On February 9th, 2022, Ivanna* celebrated her 60th birthday at the café for the first time. There were her children and grandchildren, they chatted and wished her health and joy. Little did she anticipate that the following month would find her taking refuge in a cellar, boiling water over a fire to fill bottles and keep her 80-year-old mother warm. Then, in March, a massive explosion inflicted severe injuries on her, including crushed bones in her leg, broken hands, and facial injuries.

©DRC Ukraine, Chernihiv, February 2024, Oleksandr Ratushniak

Posted on 28 Mar 2024

Ivanna's house is located on a hill. It has a high basement and to get to the living area, she has to climb stairs. For a healthy person, these few steps would not be a problem, but for Ivanna, who lost an eye and a leg due to shelling, it is a challenge.

“I leave the house only when it is dry outside. Otherwise, I can fall, and it has already happened once,” she says.

Ivanna was injured in March 2022, at the height of the fighting in Chernihiv. She stayed in the city because her elderly mother, who had health problems, refused to leave.

Chernihiv began to be shelled, and the outskirts of the city, where Ivanna's house is located, suffered the most. She says that the hardest hit was on 17 March—it killed her neighbour. Ivanna found her dead and ran to the Ukrainian military to ask them to come bury her body. That was the point when she and the neighbours started to panic.

“I tried to persuade my mother to move to a high-rise building basement, but she refused. So, we often stayed in the cellar of our house. My mother was sick—knee problems, high blood sugar. She could walk only a few steps. I boiled water in the yard on the fire, filled it in bottles and put hot bottles around my mother in the basement. I also prepared food on a fire, as there was no electricity or gas in the house,” says Ivanna.

Later, houses around them began to burn. Sometimes it was thick black smoke, as if rubber was burning.

On 22 March, Ivanna got up as usual, heated some water, and put hot bottles around her mother. It was already spring, and flowers were starting to appear, so she went around the house to remove weeds. “I love gardening,” she says.

Then the shelling started

Ivanna ran into the basement and as soon as she closed the door, shrapnel from the explosion ripped through it.

“I fell. I didn't understand what happened at first, I just saw that my leg flew off to the side. I found a cord and bandaged my leg. Then my mother called a neighbour for help, and she called Ukrainian soldiers. They came running, put a tourniquet on my leg and gave me an injection. They tried to carry me and then put me on a trolley, but then they left me for a while—they were in combat. I didn't lose consciousness, but I started losing a lot of blood, I was vomiting and lying with my head up to avoid choking,” she says.

Then the shelling started again, and they hid in the basement. After, the military found a man who took Ivanna to the hospital by car.

"When I woke up, the doctor said that the bones in my leg were so shattered that it was impossible to save it, so they cut it off above the knee. One arm was fractured, and the other had fingers torn off. My eye was blown out, part of my face was injured by shrapnel. I was told that they would make prostheses for my eye and leg," says Ivanna.

Ivanna sits on her new bed. The final image depicts a house destroyed by shelling near Ivanna's home. ©DRC Ukraine, Chernihiv, February 2024, Oleksandr Ratushniak

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Invaluable support from family and friends

After her injuries, Ivanna did not want to stay in the hospital but wanted to see her children. She went to Borzna, a town in Chernihiv Oblast where her daughters lived. A friend of hers who lived in the centre of Chernihiv took the mother to her place. And while no one was in the house, it was robbed by looters: they took a gas column and other valuable items.

Later, when Ivanna was ready to return to Chernihiv, she went to a local rehabilitation centre. Her family do not abandon her during this difficult period. Ivanna's daughters and grandchildren visit her regularly. They joke with her, cheer her up and help her to remain optimistic even during this difficult period.

It was Ivanna's daughter who registered her mother for the DRC programme to help victims of explosive ordnance. Under this programme, victims throughout the territory controlled by the government of Ukraine are provided with various types of support, such as medical assistance (surgeries, rehabilitation), provision of assistive devices (wheelchairs, walkers, hearing aids, prostheses), and inclusive living conditions.

Thanks to funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, DRC was able to pay for the trip to the prosthetics centre and purchase a new bed for Ivanna.

"I needed a high bed because I only had a low sofa. It was difficult to sit on it with a prosthesis, so I put additional mattresses on it, but it was also narrow, so it was uncomfortable for me to even turn over on the other side," she says.

Ivanna is still waiting to receive her disability pension, so she is currently fully dependent on her children. It is great progress that today she can take care of herself and manage the household. However, her granddaughter visits from time to time to change her bandages. Moreover, a neighbour, a rehabilitation therapist, comes by to help her develop her arms.

"I can now hold objects in my hands. Although I used to draw well, now no matter how I try to make a stroke, I always end up in the wrong place," says Ivanna in a bitter voice.

Ivanna finds inspiration for her drawings from the beautiful flowers in her garden. On dry and sunny days, she enjoys spending time outdoors gardening. "I'm the one who genuinely loves the soil," she says.

Ivanna's story reflects not only her journey of survival and adaptation but also the broader impact of the ongoing war in Ukraine, which has seen a marked increase in civilian casualties and infrastructural damage, profoundly affecting access to essential services and the overall quality of life for millions.

*Name was changed for confidentiality purposes. 

Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance
Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance

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