Volodymyr and Natalia live in Mariupol, Ukraine, with their 14-year-old son, Maxim. Mariupol is in the Donetsk region, which, at the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, was under Russian-backed separatists’ control for an entire month.
Volodymyr and Natalia say it’s hard enough for an adult to adapt to the daily reality of weapons, explosions, and looming danger, but nearly impossible for a teenager. When Mariupol was under fire, Maxim was so stressed he couldn’t study or do his homework.
“On May 9, Victory Day, we realized for the first time it was serious,” Natalia says. “Tanks and armored personnel carriers arrived in the city. It overwhelmed everyone. Before that, we only heard violence in the distance, so people were shocked to see it firsthand.
“When the rumble began, people began to panic and bought up all the food at the grocery stores. It felt like we had woken up at a different time and in a different place. We wanted to fall asleep and wake up in our country, in our familiar world.”
They didn’t wait for Ukrainian forces to liberate the city and instead packed up their things and took a bus to Belarus, where they lived for almost two years. Maxim started school right away, but Volodymyr and Natalia had a hard time finding jobs.
“We spent some time without a salary. The economic situation in Belarus was critically unstable,” Natalia says. “Life in a rented apartment was getting worse and worse, because prices were getting higher and higher. There were times when we didn’t have a penny. People sometimes brought us food and offered their help. Some of them wondered how we could live like that in foreign country.”
When they continued to struggle to find work, they realized they couldn’t afford to live in Belarus. Volodymyr and Natalia wanted to provide their son a bright future, but they didn’t see any opportunity to do so in Belarus, nor in Ukraine. So the family decided to go to Israel on a Fellowship Freedom Flight.
“We want Maxim to have the space for development. He is interested in clothes and hairdressing, journalism and foreign languages. There are prejudices in Slavic countries that if you are a boy, you have to play football or build something. But he sees the world differently. He hopes that kids will understand him in Israel,” Natalia says.
The family decided to live in Karmiel, and have had many phone consultations with Fellowship staff about this upcoming move. “I was afraid I was torturing the staff members with all of my questions,” Natalia jokes. “But they always helped us with the answers, always remained patient, and were very friendly to us. They explained everything we need to know. We are also grateful for the help they are providing with transferring our luggage and for the support they are giving us for initial living expenses.”
The family is also grateful that The Fellowship will provide them with a temporary apartment until they can find a new home. Mostly they are grateful to be moving to a place with stability – for their son, for themselves, and for their future.