After getting their own kids to safety, these mothers are working round the clock on rescue missions and supply runs in Ukraine.
More than 6.3 million civilians have been forced to leave their homes and flee Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a "special military operation" on the nation on February 24. However, some mothers are now returning to the war-ravaged country to help their fellow Ukrainians get to safety. Among them is 39-year-old Kateryna Turkevych, who was forced to leave Ukraine shortly after Russia's invasion began, in a desperate attempt to protect her 14-year-old daughter. "Two weeks after the beginning of the war, I was psychologically overloaded," Turkevych told TODAY Parents. "I decided to leave Kyiv for Lviv. Every night we had to go to the bomb shelter, and I didn't want my family—my mother and daughter—to have to spend every night in a bomb shelter."
Turkevych and her family traveled by bus to their neighboring Poland, where an estimated 2.9 million Ukrainians have sought refuge since the beginning of the war. "My daughter was sobbing all the time," she recalled. "She could not stop her tears, and when we got to the refugee center she just kept crying. We didn't take much with us—just one small case." Once she'd gotten her mother and daughter to safety, Turkevych knew she had to do something to help her fellow Ukrainians. It was this desire that led her to volunteer for UkraineFriends.org, a group of veterans, healthcare professionals, entrepreneurs and other Ukrainians assisting with evacuation and humanitarian efforts.
The operation, which has evacuated 27,000 Ukrainians so far, partnered with Airbnb to provide free housing for those forced to flee their homes. It is also working with Operation White Stork and Medical Supplies of America to provide humanitarian and medical aid to those who have stayed behind in Ukraine. Former teacher Oxana Zayac-Kryviak is another mother working has been working with Turkevych to provide evacuation and humanitarian assistance. The mom-of-six revealed that she was torn when her husband—who was in Poland for work when Russia invaded Ukraine—begged her to leave their home in Kyiv as the first bombs fell.
Among others members of our amazing team, UkraineFriends is honored to have our evacuation coordinator, Kat, featured in @TODAYshow. We are grateful for your support and hope this will bring more visibility to our plight.— Ukraine Friends (@UkraineFriends_) May 20, 2022
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"For me, it was always a combination of this fear on the one part and this idea that I can do something here. I can do something to help others," said Zayac-Kryviak, who eventually evacuated all six of her children and brought them to safety in western Ukraine. "And as you see, so far, we are here." Her husband also returned to Ukraine to join the country's territorial defense unit. According to Zayac-Kryviak, the inherent drive to help others runs in her family. "Together, with our older kids, we have all the time been busy doing something useful," she revealed.
This Mother’s Day, I wanted to be with Ukrainian mothers and their children.— Jill Biden (@FLOTUS) May 8, 2022
Over the last few months, far too many Ukrainians have had to flee their homes – forcing them to leave behind their loved ones. pic.twitter.com/zjtMv5ey0B
"We were making nets that our Army could use, and have been engaged in humanitarian aid and various charitable organizations. And I feel very grateful to Ukraine Friends because this work gives me an opportunity to financially support my family," she added. Both Zayac-Kryviak and Turkevych have been working round the clock on rescue missions and supply runs, getting food, water, diapers, medicine and clothing to citizens. "In our big team, not everyone is from Lviv (where they are currently operating out of)—some are actually refugees who fled their homes," Turkevych explained. "And those who are refugees were recruited for our project not so long ago. My idea was to give the floor to the people who were with us from the very beginning of the war."
White Stork evacuated 619 civilians from Ukraine into Poland yesterday. We look forward to the day these women and children can return to their homes. #StandWithUkraine @AKamyshin @ZelenskyyUa pic.twitter.com/CTvcM26aaV— Operation White Stork (@OpWhiteStork) May 8, 2022
29-year-old Khrystyna Romanuk is another mom working with Turkevych and Zayac-Kryviak. After fleeing her home in Ukraine when Russia invaded, she has stayed in Lviv coordinating and running bus evacuation operations. Romanuk, who has a 6-year-old daughter, revealed that she's witnessing the mental health ramifications of the war intensifying day by day. "The people who are getting on the buses, they feel depressed," she explained. "They've gone through a great trauma and they don't know where they are going. They're leaving their native land. They are leaving behind their houses. They are living behind their relatives, family members, and it is very, very hard for them."
White Stork has evacuated over 13,000 civilians (+ 454 cats and dogs) into Poland and temporarily housed more than 7,000 across Europe through our partnership with @Airbnb @ZelenskyyUa #StandWithUkraine #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/j0US5cT6zm— Operation White Stork (@OpWhiteStork) May 5, 2022
Romanuk recalled meeting one teenage evacuee who "could not physically cross the border" because she realized she would be leaving her grandparents behind. Another civilian fled Mariupol after spending 25 days in a basement. "People are psychologically traumatized. Quite often their emotions are subdued when they enter the bus," she added. "We had a boy who, when he was crossing the border, was not able to pronounce his name correctly. Evacuations take seven, sometimes nine hours, and over that period of time, we're able to provide some psychological support to the people—at least to give them hope." The youngest evacuee they've helped to date was 10 days old.
Millions of children in #Ukraine lost their homes, sense of stability&hopes for future. Danylo, 12 y.o. shows what`s left from his house in Chernihiv oblast. His mother recovers in hospital after serious injury. @UNICEF reaches children & families, who urgently need peace pic.twitter.com/hwb5MqlMvY— UNICEF Ukraine (@UNICEF_UA) June 14, 2022
Turkevych, Zayac-Kryviak and Romanuk believe their experience as mothers make them well equipped to care for the evacuees, most of whom are mothers themselves. "Being a mom helped me to understand them better," Turkevych said. "I look at them and I remember what my kid was like when she was 1, 2 and 3 years old. You cannot really explain to a young kid or make a child understand what is happening. Often, they are really stressed because they do not understand why it is happening to them. So we're trying to put ourselves in their shoes and to do everything possible to at least ensure some comfort to them."
Zayac-Kryviak agreed. "I understand what women must be thinking and feeling," she said. "Maybe not having time to fully rehabilitate and still under the impact of the stress of childbirth, feeling pain, and they still had to undertake such travel. Sometimes we somehow inspire them and help them, and even do not realize how much impact we may have on them." Roman Vinfield, the co-founder of UkraineFriends.org, praised the three women for the work they've been doing. "They're Wonder Women," he said. "When you're in that place, day in and day out—the toll is extraordinary. Caregivers in general have some of the shortest life spans because of the stress. I can't even imagine the type of stress that they're under, the pressure they're under, and they deserve all the credit. They're amazing, amazing women."