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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

Ukraine: 3 seconds to save 3 lives

The war raging in Ukraine since 24 February has already forced more than 12 million people to leave their homes. Zina is one of them.

As she was taking shelter in Kharkiv metro station with thousands of others, she helped the kids hiding from the war with toys and educational materials provided by UNICEF with EU humanitarian funding.

Ukraine: 3 seconds to save 3 lives 01
“It was wonderful to see how close people really are, thousands of people in the station but people would help you, like family,” says UNICEF volunteer Zina.
© UNICEF/Pashkina

“I heard the sounds, different ones. I knew we had about 3 seconds to run to the corridor and lie down,” Zina says as she recounts the moment she grabbed her daughter and husband to take shelter. “It felt like a year.”

Within minutes, their home had been devastated. But Zina, her husband Sergiy and their 19-month-old daughter Alice were alive, saved from the blasts by thick apartment block walls. Zina and Sergiy had protected Alice by using their own bodies to cover her.

“The next day we went to the Kharkiv metro station,” Zina says. “We stayed there for 32 days and nights.”

For Zina, her family, and thousands of other people, these metro stations have become home. A home without natural light and few signs of the outside world aside from the yellow flowers that people gathered to brighten things up a little.

Life underground

Confronting the devastation above ground – and her fears of the journey that lay ahead – Zina set out for Lviv, in the west of the country.

Sergiy stayed behind at the metro station to look after his parents. Finally, they made it without incident to the relative safety of Lviv.

Alice is now being cared for at a children’s hospital in Lviv, her mother living at her side.

“This is the best treatment we can ever imagine, they [the hospital staff] are all wonderful, we felt like we came home,” Zina says. “My work is to stay cheerful for her. I need Alice to be healthy.”


Story by Toby Fricker, UNICEF.

Publication date: 24/06/2022