“You need to go. Take the kids. Pack a bag.
You are leaving in 2 hours”
Outside your home the sounds of a war coming ever closer.
Inside: You, your family and what used to be your safe zone.
A surreal mix of emotions, a blend of urgency and unwillingness to leave.
Will I ever see my home again? My husband? My friends?
Snap out of it. You have to keep calm for your children.
Stomach in knots and throat tense with suppressed tears.
So what do you bring? Surrounded by a lifetime's worth of things, clothes and must-haves.
A house full of memories and just one small bag to fill.
What would you reach for?
Forever intertwined by history.
Katerina used to live in Mariupol. She moved to Odessa with her husband and two children but says her heart never left. Mariupol is where home is. Or was.
This city is no longer in existence.
On the morning the war broke out her husband told her to leave. “Take the kids, go to Moldova.”
A few hours later she was on her way, traveling to an unknown future leaving her husband behind.
A bag with some belongings, important documents, a bit of money and a long-sleeved t-shirt that her daughter used to wear when she was much younger.
A reminder of happier times, of simpler times, and a reminder of what you are fleeing for.
Hand clasping the familiar fabric in the bag like a safety blanket.
Anna is also from Odessa. She used to be a fashion designer in Ukraine. “Are you still a fashion designer”, I ask. She laughs. “Noooo! I work in a fridge! A greenhouse! I pack things.”
She hands over a plastic bag with something inside it. She pushes it into my hands and says:
“For you. To show. With the stories.”
Inside I find the most beautiful embroidered tunic top. Blue threads on a white background form an intricate pattern. “It’s a “вишива́нка”, a vyshyvanka. A traditional Ukrainian shirt.”
Anna got trapped in Odessa and could not leave. The buses and trains filled up and broke down. Routes became unsafe and she spent the best part of seven months sitting in a cellar with her son, sheltering from the bombs outside.
When she finally could get out this shirt was the first thing she reached for.
She had made it before going on holiday to Egypt many years earlier and wore it to several parties. “I grabbed it because it reminds me of happiness”. She smiles with her whole being telling me this. “It reminds me that the war will have to end one day.”
294 miles to the north Oksana was working as a chef in Kyiv. When the war broke out her home was a prime target as she lived next to the airport. For six months she stayed, describing how the building would sway when the bombs hit. For as long as possible she tried to keep things normal, stubbornly going to work, determined that it would end.
The restaurant she worked at closed and she was left without an income. With no money she no longer had a choice, she had to leave.
Through a webpage, she found a way out: A sponsor in Warsaw paid her way to Poland and then on to London. In her hands; a small, worn black denim bag with her documents. No money.
“It is a sad memory this bag. But it reminds me of home. It reminds me that it is real and that it must end.”
Today they are all three building their new lives in Norfolk, through the fantastic support of the Ukraine Aid Centre in Dereham.
“What are your dreams” I ask. “Apart from peace of course” I add.
They laugh. “So many dreams! A make-up school maybe but I need a sponsor”. Oksana laughs.
“What about you Anna,” I ask. “Fashion design again?”
Her eyes light up. “Yes! I would love that!”
If you were given 2 hours to pack. What would you bring?