Since Russia’s invasion began, dozens of Ukraine’s 7.5 million children have been killed and thousands of others have left in search of safety. Among those thousands is 5-year-old Valeriia from Kryvyi Rih, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hometown in central Ukraine. Her image—a smiling child, literally supported by her fellow Ukrainians—appears on one of this issue’s covers.
If you met Valeriia, you might think she’s shy, her mother Taisiia told TIME, but don’t be fooled; at home, she commands attention. She loves the same things as many little girls—her stuffed bunny; her Elsa doll from Cold HeartEnglish-speaking speakers are familiar with this term FrozenShe also left her pink backpack behind after fleeing her home country. Valeriia is also a big dreamer. She wants to start her first school year in Sept.
Now, it’s hard to say when and where Valeriia will be able to do so. Mother and daughter fled Poland on March 9th. They requested that TIME only use their names for security. Taisiia, a mother of one, explained why she left home in order to protect her child. “I love everything about her,” she said. “She is my sunshine, my joy.”
We didn’t realize there would be a war.
Our military bases were being bombarded by the occupying armies when we woke up on February 24, at 4 AM. It was Valeriia, my little girl; I felt her pain and knew that we needed to flee. So we could escape Ukraine, we left before the bombardment. God blesses us. Even though Valeriia now lives with me, my son and husband remained in Ukraine. We talk almost every day.
It was hard to flee Ukraine. However, everyone wants their children to be well taken care of so many people tried to leave. Three kilometers of lines stretched between buses and trains. [1.9 miles]. Most of the people were children and women, so there was little space between them. The train journey from Kiev to Lviv took us 18 hours.
It’s a terrible thing to see. Everything was peaceful, calm, and beautiful before you arrived in our cities. But now, there is danger, chaos and fear. [pullquote]Each mother fears for the safety of her child. — Taisiia[/pullquote]
The [Russians] still haven’t come to our city. Kryvyi Rih has fought back. They are getting closer. As I watch the news, they are getting closer and closer. In the media, Russia says they aren’t at war in Ukraine. The war in Ukraine is very real. Real people are being killed. There are so many people in Kharkiv that live in these shelters. They couldn’t even get out with their children.
Here I am with my aunt, my nephew and mother from Poland in a hotel in Warsaw. They are there to take care of us. We have food, and a bed. Volunteers helped small children when we crossed the border. The event was organized well. Hot food was provided, along with drinks. Candy was also given to children. It was warm and welcoming, even though it was difficult. I cannot find the words to express how grateful I am to everyone who has helped; I’m shocked in a good way.
Learn More Ukraine: Mothers Returned to Ukraine to Save Their Children
Most important is that your children feel safe. We are now feeling a lot better emotionally. Some stress has gone—almost—but there is always more, because we left our family. My daughter has become calmer. She was once anxious and scared.
It will end, it is my belief. All Ukrainians—women and children—will come back home, and everything will be fine.
For now, we will try to be useful for Poland, for the Polish people; we don’t want to abuse their hospitality. Maybe, like we were helped by them, we could help other Ukrainians as well.
—As told to Tara Law, with translation by Artem Iurchenko
To learn more about how you can help the people of Ukraine, visit time.com/help-ukraine.
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