Tears welled in Nastia Estomina’s eyes, despite a forced smile for her young children, each time she thought of the difficult journey to flee her home in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine.
While they were still there, they were under constant threat of bombardment, with fighter jets flying so low that Estomina could sometimes spot the expression on the pilots’ faces.
Holding on to memories of life in Kharkiv before the war in an effort to calm her children is difficult, she told CBC News.
“You try to be strong and hold back your emotions, but when you start thinking about it, you feel like going home,” Estomina said.
This is not the first time the 26-year-old has been forced to leave her home. In 2014, Estomina escaped from Sloviansk, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, after pro-Russian separatists moved into the strategic town.
Having now left Kharkiv, Estomina intends to move to Poland with her two young children and younger brother.
Sitting in a temporary shelter set up in Lviv’s central train station, just 70 kilometers from the border with Poland, Estomina tries both to soothe her five-month-old baby and keep an eye on her exuberant two-year-old. old girl.
“Kids don’t understand, but we understand everything,” Estomina, 26, continued, wiping her eyes and describing her constant anxiety. “We don’t know where we’re going, we’re just going, at least where there are no sirens.”
Hovering nearby, ready to help, is trauma psychologist Olena Vorona. She volunteers here twice a week, and the need is even greater now that the war in Ukraine is in its seventh week.
“They’ve been through so much trauma, way more than the people we saw in the first few weeks,” Vorona told CBC News, noting that often a psychological reaction to the trauma of daily bombardment and shelling can be delayed. “Someone can go through this calmly and they hold the emotions inside and the effects will be visible months later.”
Vorona is one of thousands of Ukrainians who volunteer their time and do whatever they can to help support the country’s defense against Russian invasion, including helping send aid to those in need. most needed, in the eastern and southern parts of the country hardest hit by the fighting.
Many volunteers say they feel even more determined to help at all hours after devastating images emerged in recent weeks of civilians apparently targeted by Russian attacks, which Ukrainian officials consider war crimes.
The Kremlin has denied the charges.
“I have nothing else to do”
In a sprawling warehouse in the Lviv region, boxes upon boxes are stacked and stacked next to pallets containing everything from canned food to clothing, protective equipment and medical supplies – much of it being given by countries all over the world and entering Ukraine via neighboring Poland.
Stella Pavlenko, 55, made her way through the boxes, finding order in the chaos and relentlessly sorting supplies.
WATCH | Ukrainian volunteers contribute to the war effort:
She is a dentist by trade, but as soon as the war broke out, Pavlenko closed her practice in order to spend every day helping in the warehouse.
“I have nothing else to do. I am more useful here for all of Ukraine, for all the people,” she said.
“I feel like I’m doing a very small piece for our country, to make our people feel comfortable in places that aren’t easy,” Pavlenko said, adding that there are already enough dentists in the country. world. “They’ll get by without me.”
His unstoppable energy is matched by his fellow volunteers, all of whom give their time to the cause. Even storage space was donated.
“It is very important for me”
Medical student Vladyslav Melnyk is a month away from graduating, but he is now using his medical expertise to sift through pills and surgical supplies, preparing them for distribution in places like Zaporizhzhia, the nearest safe city to the southern port of Mariupol, which has been under siege for weeks and is in desperate need of supplies.
The list of destinations for the goods is long and includes Kharkiv, near the Russian border; Chernihiv north of the capital, kyiv, and a city surrounded by Russian troops for several weeks; and Mykolaiv and Odessa to the south.
“It’s very important to me,” Melnyk, 23, said when asked why he volunteers every day. “You can see the massacre in Bucha, in Irpin, in other cities in Ukraine and it is… very hard,” he said, with emotion in his voice.
“Here we try to give our country everything we can.”
Much of the activity in the warehouse is overseen by Ostap Barannik. One of many coordinators, he moved from kyiv to Lviv just before the invasion of Russian tanks and troops.
After his employer, Deloitte, suspended operations in Ukraine and with his family safely out of the country, Barannik had plenty of time to devote to his new full-time volunteer job.
He is convinced that the shocking images from Bucha and other parts of the country, where civilians were apparently the main target of Russian forces, served to strengthen the resolve of thousands of volunteers across the country.
“We stay later [in the day] and try to do more, just to make sure we help more,” Barannik said.
“It’s my impact”
Others use their notoriety and popularity to raise funds.
Stanislav Horuna, who won a bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in karate kumite, not only joined the all-volunteer Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces when war broke out, but also put his Olympic medal up for auction.
“It’s a piece of metal…but actually it symbolizes a lot,” Horuna told CBC News, just before a practice session at his karate school in Lviv.
“It symbolizes all the work I put in to get on the Olympic podium and it symbolizes every victory on my way to the Olympics.”
Even so, Horuna didn’t hesitate to sell the “priceless” medal he had aspired to for more than 19 years as he worked in the dojo’s karate hall, honing his martial arts skills.
“It’s a matter of priorities, and now Ukraine is much more important to me than my personal interests,” said the athlete, adding that the money could be used to buy weapons or body armor for those in the line of sight.
“It can save someone’s life.”
A few days before the auction window closed, the medal was selling for US$11,000, which Horuna called “a very good price for a piece of metal.” In the end, the winning bid was $20,500.
“That’s my impact,” Horuna said, “my little contribution to our victory.”