My advice to other children who have fled Ukraine? Appreciate what you have – UNHCR Holland

Daria (15) sings a traditional song from her home country, Ukraine, in her family’s home in Chisinau, Moldova.

One morning in the early weeks of the conflict that erupted in Ukraine in February, the world of 15-year-old Daria Nastasiuk was turned upside down. Explosions near her home in Odessa woke her up and her mother hastily told her to flee.

With eight people in the car, they spent more than 24 hours on roads blocked with thousands of others fleeing to the nearby border with Moldova.

Daria was separated from her father, her friends and her familiar life. She spent the last month with her mother and little brother in the capital of Moldova, Chisinau, at a university college, which the government has turned into a shelter for Ukrainians. Daria is one of more than 460,000 refugees who have crossed the border from Ukraine into Moldova since the beginning of the war.

In this article, Daria reflects on the recent change in her life, its psychological effects, and the advice she would give to other teens who have never had to flee their homes. Her words have been edited to clarify the story.

Before the war I had many friends. We used to go out, do homework together, drink tea at each other’s homes and listen to music. We had fun. The atmosphere was calm and peaceful. Everything was perfect.

Before the war I had many friends. We often went out, did homework together, visited each other at home to drink tea and listen to music. Just have fun. The atmosphere was calm and peaceful. Everything was perfect.

The biggest problems I had back then were having with the school to do or quarrel with my friends or parents. Now I realize I had no serious issues. I was just worried about the little things.

When the war broke out, there was a curfew and everyone had to stay indoors. There was no teaching, for all schools were closed.

Daria with her mother Olga (42) and her younger brother Sergey (7) in the bedroom of their residence. © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell

We left the day after the explosions started. When I first heard them, I was asleep. I thought someone was trying to wake me up to go to school. But it was my mother who woke me up and said I should pack my things quickly. I started running around the house to get ready. The next day we took things to the car and left.

I took some things with me, like shampoo, a pillow and my stuffed animal; a small toy giraffe. We also brought a lot of food with us because we knew it could be a long journey.

I wish I could have brought more summer clothes and accessories. I would have preferred to take my pets, my cat and dog with me because I miss them so much.

In Moldova we have a lot of free time, so we watch the news to see what is happening in Odesa. No one can believe what is happening there now.

Daria studies at the desk in her family’s bedroom, where she takes online courses with her Ukrainian teachers and classmates. © UNHCR / Andrew McConnell

When I was able to take online courses, I started to get better. It distracts me and doing homework keeps me busy. Because we can not meet, we sometimes turn on our cameras to see each others to see faces. All my classmates have fled to different countries like Germany, Romania and The United States.

I kept in touch with a friend from Ukraine who fled to Germany with his family. We talk almost every day. Usually we talk about the war, we remember the good times before it, and we try to support each other. We are worried about our other friends and hope we can see each other again as soon as possible.

“I never thought I would experience a war.”

Before this, I never really thought about refugees because I thought it would not happen to us. I never thought I would go through a war and end up in this situation.

For me, being a refugee means I do not have direct access to food, a place to sleep and clothes. It also means having mental health issues.

I’m sure I will have bad memories of what happened, even if I do not remember it. I try to find things that distract me. The first thing I want to do [in Odesa] went to sea with my parents and brother. I take a dip and forget what happened.

My advice to children in otherse countries should be grateful for the time they have now and the peace they live in and the happiness of having family and friends. You do not have to worry about the small problems in life. Try to appreciate what you have.

As told to Charlie Dunmore and Irina Odobescu

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