‘We couldn’t let go’: War tears young Ukrainian family apart


BRASOV, Romania — University student Vlada Yushchenko was still in her teens and nearly three months pregnant when she hugged her husband at the border, turned away, and entered Moldova.

Now she’s in Romania, one of millions of Ukrainians forced to flee the Russian invasion. Her child, Daniel, was born there eight months ago and has yet to meet his father Yaroslav, 21 years old and like most men of combat age, barred from leaving Ukraine.

The forced separation of young families is an all-too-common story among the approximately 110,000 Ukrainian refugees in Romania – nearly all of them women and children.

Yushchenko, who currently resides in the central Romanian city of Brasov, where she gave birth and shares a two-room apartment with her mother, Daniel, said: “Nobody expected war to come and we would. not together. , and her terminally ill grandmother.

“For a long time, we couldn’t be apart,” Yushchenko, 19, recalls the couple’s separation at the border. “We really don’t want this, but at the same time we understand that we have to do this for the health of me and the baby and to be safe.”

As the war entered its second year, the lack of physical contact between the baby and his father, a computer programming student in Kiev, worsened. However, their smartphones allow families to feel connected.

“Sometimes we burst into tears (but) we were so happy to see each other on video,” Yushchenko said. “I called (Yaroslav) and sent a picture as soon as I could” on the day Daniel was born, she added. “It’s emotional, he’s so happy, it’s unforgettable.”

But that virtual link is not always available.

In recent months, Russian airstrikes have targeted critical energy infrastructure across large swaths of Ukraine, which has at times made communication difficult. Yaroslav tries to assuage her worries, Yushchenko said, by warning her of the possibility of a power outage and telling her not to panic during moments of silence.

However, watching footage of the war taking place in Ukraine and knowing her husband was there only made her more nervous.

Yushchenko, who both takes care of the baby while continuing to study mathematics and physics remotely at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute, said: “It is difficult to watch the news and witness all the misery, the missile attacks, deaths. “I pray every day that everything will be okay…in the city where (Yaroslav) lives and in general.”

Her faith, among other things, is helping her through the ordeal.

When Daniel was six months old, she decided to christen him at a local Orthodox church, by a priest who lived in their apartment complex and waives the usual fee for the ceremony. Yushchenko said they attend Sunday worship whenever possible.

In her daily life, she often “walks for a long time, sometimes all day” with Daniel around Brasov, a picturesque heritage city nestled in the arc-shaped Carpathian Mountains. She also met other Ukrainian mothers living locally, who she said she could talk to about babies and motherhood.

Since the war began, more than eight million Ukrainians have fled to other European countries, in the largest exodus of refugees the continent has seen since World War II.

According to Astrid Hamberger, founder of the NGO that has helped many of them, including the Yushchenko family, find housing, medical care and social support, more than 4,000 people have registered with the Center. Brasov’s migrant integration.

“I feel safe here… we get a lot of help, which I am very grateful for,” said Yushchenko, who hopes Ukraine wins the war so they can go home and eventually stay there. together as a family — and Daniel can meet his Dad.

“It will be an unforgettable meeting, our baby is our happiness,” she said.

When asked what she prayed for at the church in Brasov, Yushchenko did not hesitate to answer.

“I pray for the health of my family and friends as well as the peaceful skies over our country,” she said, “and ask for the strength to endure all this.”

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