Ukraine, the stories of Julia and Iryna: “Thanks to Italy, our children are safe”


ROME – Two Ukrainian women united by a single cruel fate: war. Two mothers forced to flee their country invaded by the violence of an enemy greater than them, and thatthey have a better life in Italyfor themselves and their families. Their names are Julija Shkred and Iryna Zubararrived in Italy a short time ago, on March 14th from Volnovaskyi Raion, in the Novotroitske district, and on April 3rd from Melitopol.

The agency Dire met them in Rome in the cemetery of the Ukrainian Church of Santa Sofia, one of the most important prayer centers for the Ukrainian people in Italy, and since the outbreak of the conflict on February 24, it has become a collection center for aid to be sent to areas invaded by Putin’s Russia.

It is here, in the Boccea district, that the rector of the Basilica of Santa Sofia, Fr. Marco Jaroslav Semehen, erected a practically perfect organizational machine. And it is here, where the yellow-blue flag of Ukraine stands out everywhere, that Yulia and Iryna, along with many other women, meet almost every day, also to study the Italian language and feel less alone. Both describe, with the help of the translator, Michele Duminskyj, themselves for Dire with great calm and dignity.

Iryna green eyes full of hopesunglasses resting on the head, she is 39 years old and the mother of three children: the eldest, Maksym, is 13. Then there is Viktor at five years old and little Angela at one and a half years old. While the mother recounts the events that led to her leaving her country and then arriving in Rome, her children play with their father and chase each other in the church square.

“We arrived here by car – he says – after crossing ten countries. The first nation outside the Ukrainian border was Moldova. When we passed, we chose to come directly to Italy, a country we like very much.” he speaks, he suggests a shy smile, at times he is moved by remembering what he has experienced since he had to leave Melitopol. Today, his city is occupied by the Russian army “And there – he adds – before the outbreak of the war I was on maternity leave, which in my country lasts three years. In Ukraine we had a shop, which my husband managed”.

If Iryna, her husband and her three children are now safe here in Italy, the same cannot be said about her other family members who have stayed in Ukraine. “In my town, my mother and my sister stayed with her family. I try to talk to them as often as possible, but I can hear from them once or twice a week or once every two weeks. The problem is that in that occupied territory the telephone company does not work very well. It almost seems that the Russian army is able to block the signal and prevent calls“.

Meanwhile, there is no good news from Ukraine: Russia does not seem to want to stop, the conflict does not seem to end. Here, what so Iryna has to find the right words to try to reassure her children. ‘It is a very sensitive subject – he confirms – that must be explained to children with absolute delicacy. I explain to my children that we were attacked by the Russian army, but that we are not to blame for this, we have not done anything wrong. I’m trying to calm them down and now, in the last few days I realize that they have managed to get away from the fear. I remember that when we arrived in Italy, my children were scared, even when a civilian plane passed in the sky, they felt threatened, but today, I repeat, this fear seems to be over. “It’s clear – he adds – I did not want my children to hear bombings or sirens in their lives, which is already a scary thing. That’s why – but he says it with emotion – when the war is over, I will prefer to stay and live in Italy ”.

Iryna is a mother. Sunday will therefore also be her party, as all mothers do. Impossible not to think of his mother, thousands of miles away. ‘I want to give her a big bouquet of chamomile flowers, these are the ones she likes best – she says – while I have already received my gift: being here gives me serenity, it makes me feel good’. Finally, Iryna addresses a thought to the land that has welcomed her with open arms. ‘I would like to thank Italy and the Italians very much for all the help and support we receive‘, he tells us before saying goodbye and going to an Italian lesson.

Whether to talk to Iryna it was a strong feeling, it’s really hard to hold back the tears by listening to Julia’s words. Jeans, hair gathered, arms folded as if to defend herself, to want to raise a barrier, she too, like Iryna, has a handkerchief in her hand ready to wipe her tears. She and her family, as well as Iryna and all the women, men and children who fled the conflict, are slowly recovering from the trauma of the war. Or at least that’s what they’re trying to do.

Julija is 35 years old, she arrived in Italy with her husband. She too she is so lucky to be able to bring her three children to our country: the eldest, 20, has the same name. Then there is Vadym at 10 and little Solomia at four.

Italy welcomed the five members of the Shkred family after a long and complicated journey that began in a small town in the Donetsk region. “Initially, we were evacuated from our city – inform us – then we arrived in Lviv by train and crossed Poland and Germany”.
Despite all these nuisances, Julija is in no doubt. ‘If you told me today that the war is over – I would be moved – I would pack my suitcases and go home immediately’.

The road to return to normal is still uphill. ‘At the moment here in Italy we have no work. We are learning your language, which is a bit complicated, we are really doing our best to find a job. In Ukraine, my husband did not work much because he was ill, he took care of the management of the house. I, on the other hand, bought fruit and vegetables from the farmers and resold them on the market. At home we also worked our garden “.

No one will ever understand what this young woman is carrying in her, what thoughts are following her throughout the day. However, she also knows that in the evening she will go to bed with her children next to her. “Where we live – Julija points out – the war did not start on February 24, as many believe. In our city, the war started eight years ago. Our children have actually experienced and heard the first explosions, the first bombings, the first battles in 2014. It is clear that the bombs after February 24 began to fall without stopping, and as I said, they have already lived with this for 8 years experience. . In general, I do not prefer to talk about this topic with my children ”.

A dramatic experience that Julija and her family have put behind them. However, the same does not happen for other family members. “In my city, which is now occupied by the Russian army, live two of my sisters – she declares – and I can very rarely talk to them only via WhatsApp, Viber or other messaging applications. Instead, I can often hear a third sister and my father, who is in free territory controlled by Ukraine ”.

The difficulties are many. But a small, big victory, Julija has won. “Just having my kids with me, alive and well, really means a lot.” The young mother also wants to say something before she says goodbye. And even in this case, tears wet her face. “We like Rome and Italy a lot. Just like we really like Frosinone where we now live. We Italians have received us very well, but as soon as the war is over, we would love to go back to Ukraine, to be able to live in our house and continue working as we did before. We really hope to have peace soon and maybe to be able to return to Italy to visit it as tourists “.

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