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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
17 May 2024

Sipping tea, sharing sorrow: a story of war-time friendship and support

Elena embracing Svitlana. A window curtain in the background.
© WFP, 2023 (photographer: Daniela Oleinic)

War inevitably brings loss – of lives, health, homes, and cherished dreams. Yet, in the darkest times, the true brightness of humanity shines through. 

This is the story of Svitlana. Over 2 years ago, the life of this 70-year-old woman from the small Ukrainian town of Mohyliv-Podilskyi was shattered by war. When Russia invaded Ukraine, tanks, missiles, and relentless shelling turned peaceful lives into chaos for millions of Ukrainians. 

Among them was Svitlana. Instead of tending her garden, baking cookies for her grandchild, managing her health, and meeting her neighbours, she was forced to flee from the Russian troops advancing on Kyiv.

Svitlana seated in a sofa.
“No one thought that the Russians would attack us and bring us so much grief. You don't even expect good news anymore. It's like constantly sitting on a gunpowder keg: just hoping nothing happens, no bombings, no killings,” says Svitlana.
© European Union, 2023 (photographer: Jaime Camacho Garcia)

She vividly remembers when it all started: “The war caught me in Kyiv, at my son's home. It was early, around 5 in the morning. My son woke me up shouting, 'Wake up, it's war!' We were unprepared. We didn't even take any belongings; just dressed the grandchild and ran. The elevator was out because the power was gone, the sounds of explosions were all around. We tried to get out of Kyiv. By the time we reached the highway, the child was screaming, my daughter-in-law was crying, …we were just driving and driving... it was terrifying..." - Svitlana recalls.

In the following months, there were several more trips and relocations. And then, fate brought Svitlana together with Elena - an old friend who had moved from Mohyliv-Podilskyi to Moldova back in 1975. After the start of the full-scale invasion, Elena came to her hometown to visit her parents' graves and there she met Svitlana. Without much hesitation, the woman who had already sheltered several Ukrainian families in her small apartment in Chisinau, offered Svitlana a place to stay with her to Moldova.

"It was a simple decision. I just told her to come, and that's it. When there's a need, there's a need. I had no doubts. This is how we do it: drink tea together and share sorrow together," explains Elena.

Elena and Svitlana sitting at a table speaking to an aid worker.
“[…] war is a human tragedy. And maybe it will end at some point, but you can't bring back the people who die during it. Therefore, helping each other in these moments seems fundamental to me," shares Elena (on the left).
© European Union, 2023 (photographer: Jaime Camacho Garcia)

Offering shelter to her friend, which Elena confidently describes as simple, was actually challenging. At 64, despite being of retirement age, Elena still works at a confectionery factory to make ends meet. That's why the financial assistance offered to her by the European Union Humanitarian Aid through the World Food Program has been a lifeline. 

The funds provided by the EU to the generous people in Moldova, like Elena, who are hosting Ukrainian refugees, help them cover their most pressing needs.

"Through this program, I receive 3,900 lei every 2 months. I would take in refugees even without this assistance, but with it, of course, it's much easier. With this money, we pay for gas, electricity, internet" Elena says.

"We are very grateful for this assistance. Very grateful to the government and the people of Moldova, and to all the organisations that help us" adds Svitlana.

Ivanna - an aid worker - sitting on a sofa together with Elena and Svitlana.
Sweet tea and candies from the factory where Elena works are a mandatory treat for all guests of these wonderful, strong women. With them, even the toughest conversations feel lighter.
© European Union, 2023 (photographer: Jaime Camacho Garcia)

Two women, united by war after decades apart, continue their lives together despite everything. As Elena says, they both share the sorrow that has so unexpectedly invaded their worlds:

"We had a wonderful country! Beautiful and prosperous, we had it all: the sea, the Carpathian Mountains. We didn't need war. We didn't need this sorrow and grief. Now, the whole of Ukraine is covered with cemeteries and graves with blue-yellow flags. The whole of Ukraine is covered with cemeteries. Do you understand what it means? It's a tragedy that should never have happened."

Yet, despite everything, Svitlana still believes and hopes to return home:

"We miss Ukraine so much. Ukraine above all. But what can we do? We hold onto hope in God and reason, praying that all of this will eventually cease."

  • Photo of Ivanna Bedei

    Story by Ivanna Bedei, Information and Communication Assistant in Ukraine, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.

    Publication date: 17/05/2024