While other mothers watch their children play carefree in the garden, Irina Viktorenko had to tear her little Solomyia out of the environment she was used to five months ago to bring her to safety, away from war and destruction. Not for the first time, the family of two has to rebuild their lives from scratch ‒ but this time hopefully not forever.
"I am a strong woman, I know that, but I never thought I could do this." Again and again during the interview, Irina Viktorenko is caught up in her feelings. With her little daughter Solomyia in her arms and half-smiling, half-crying eyes, the 39-year-old talks about her life before the war, her escape from Ukraine and the sounds that have made her twitch ever since. She and her compatriots had been warned via television about a possible escalation of the situation with Russia, but Irina only wanted to believe the horror news when the first bombs were already falling.
"We were told to have a suitcase ready in case Russia attacked. But when it started on 24 February, I didn't have anything ready because everything seemed so unrealistic. I was totally confused and panicked", Irina describes. Today, she is in Luxembourg and safe, Solomyia is playing with her doll without a care in the world and peaceful birdsong echoes in from outside instead of the all-shaking bangs of explosions. The shock of her escape, though, sits deep in the Ukrainian's bones. "I can't forget the sound of the rockets and every time a helicopter flies overhead, it brings back the negative memories."
Life in nature
Irina would like to return to her homeland, to the city where she built a life, for herself and her daughter. "I was happy with my life. I had a job, my child, a flat ‒ everything was complete. Of course there were dreams and goals, my ex-husband had kept the car after our divorce and I planned to buy a new one someday. But these are small details and nothing that comes close to what we are experiencing because of the war", says the 39-year-old. Her flat in Vyshhorod just a few kilometres outside Kyiv is in a new building with 20 floors. Irina used the location right next to the forest almost every day to let her mind wander and enjoy the peace and quiet of nature.
"Before work, I loved being outside to charge positivity and listening to the birds. Solomyia's best friend lives in the same building, so they could take turns playing at our place or at her parents'." She herself actually grew up in Nova Kakhovka on the left bank of the Dnieper River in southern Ukraine, she says, and had already learned to appreciate her surroundings during her childhood years there. "Where I come from, there is a beautiful park and natural springs. It's a lovely city, but unfortunately it's hard to find a job there, so I moved closer to the capital", Irina says.
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