Alevtina smiles while cuddling her mother Alexandra Zhuravel in their bedroom at Poland’s Benedictine Sisters Monastery. It is a world away Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine.
She is happy in that moment, but she hides her fear when the peace around the monastery of 17th-century monks where she and her sister have sought refuge from the storms with an airplane or car overhead.
The eight-year old has cerebral palsy and is unable to speak.
Zhuravel enjoys walking in the gardens with her daughters and sharing meals with refugees.
Locals helped her locate a pool for Alevtina’s resume therapy and classes for Viktoria, the elder daughter, to dance. They are grateful to the guards who assisted them as they fled their homeland and returned to check on the family.
Zhuravel, 38 said that the children were scared by the sirens, and the explosions while pushing Alevtina in a special stroller through the monastery’s vast gardens.
Zhuravel stated that Alevtina was still afraid. “She is constantly stressed and we try our best to distract her by taking walks and going to the pool. She is learning to get through the stress by walking as much as she can and playing outside.
The monastery’s six nuns provide food in the cafeteria. Locals have also helped with clothing, financial assistance, and toys. Two teddy bears are perched on the window sill of the small room’s tiny room.
Each day since arriving in Poland on March 12, 2012, presents new challenges. A helicopter flew above Alevtina, who was normally smiling, and her eyes became glazed with fear from Zhuravel’s claims that her daughter associates war with the noise.
Zhuravel wanted to remain in Ukraine, but her son insisted that they leave because of the fearful explosions and shelling in Alevtina’s home.
Russia denies targeting civilians as part of a “special military operations” to demilitarize Ukraine.
Zhuravel stated that the family went first to the other side of the city, but they decided to return the next day, March 10.
She said that “He forced us out” to Reuters. This was her 18-year old son, who was a student at the time of Russia’s February 24 invasion. He said, “Mother, how are you going to hide with Alevtina?” Alevtina fears sirens, Alevtina afraid of everything’.
The family boarded a train from Lviv to take their dog Luna, and then made their way to Poland. Zhuravel recalled the kindness of volunteers who found them housing and guards who took Alevtina’s stroller across border.
According to the U.N refugee agency, the fighting in Ukraine has caused more than 10,000,000 people to flee the country and more than 4,000,000 to leave. This is Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War Two.
More than half of refugees, including Zhuravel and her children, have entered the European Union via Poland. Poland shares a border of 500 km with Ukraine.
Others have fled to other cities or countries, but Zhuravel chose to stay in Jaroslaw (40 km from the border), so that she can return to her son as soon as possible.
She said, “Every morning I wake up hoping someone will text or call me so that we can go home.” That is all I wait for every day. We have packed our suitcase and are waiting for a call.