We laughed and we cried – Pete’s Ukraine visit

Maria serving dinner

Pete Garratt our Director of Global Programmes shares the story of his visit to Ukraine, where he met with Maria and her family.

Today was my second day in Ukraine and the importance of what we are doing has really hit home.  

In a village near Ivankiv, north of Kyiv towards the Belarussian border, an area which was under occupation for 36 days at the start of the war, we met Maria*, the brisk and friendly leader of the village.  

She invited us into her wooden framed home and insisted we sit around her kitchen table, with the stove warming us, while she prepared lunch and shared her story. Little did we know what was to follow.  

On the first day of the invasion, she heard shelling and headed for the makeshift village bomb shelter, together with her husband, her daughter and son-in-law and three granddaughters. It wasn’t much of a shelter and towards the end of the day, her daughter and son-in-law made the fateful decision to return to their smallholding to look after their livestock. Her husband followed them onto the village’s main road just in time to see a Russian shell land kill them both instantly, shrapnel also ripping into his leg.  

The kitchen was stunned into silence. Maria was weeping as she shared her pain. We comforted her, but she wanted to continue, telling us how her granddaughters kissed the faces of their now-dead parents as they lay in the road. The horrendous trauma that these three young girls have been left with can only be guessed at. 

Picture of the family drawn by Maria's granddaughters
Picture of the family drawn by Maria’s granddaughters

Maria insisted on serving the most delicious homemade cooked dumplings – a local speciality – and bringing out her homemade wine for us. She continued to tell us of her pride in the way the small community looked after each other during the occupation and since; of her husband’s rehabilitation albeit with a badly damaged leg, and most importantly of her delight in her granddaughters.  

Our Hope and Homes for Children team have been supporting this family so that they can stay together. But, perhaps most importantly, our trained local psychologist has been working intensively with the three girls, using art therapy to support them in processing their grief.  

Maria made it clear we were not leaving her home until we had filled our bellies with amazing course after amazing course. So, as the clock ticked by, we were, gradually at first, and then with a sense of connection, able to laugh together as we toasted new friendships and dreams of a better future. This was human suffering in its rawest form, but also a mother and grandmother’s determination for hope and a better future to shine through in the darkest of days.

It was a privilege for us to spend time with Maria and a privilege for Hope and Homes for Children to be providing support and encouragement to Maria and her granddaughters, and to other families across Ukraine, each with their own story to tell. 

– Pete Garratt, Director of Global Programmes