It was meant to be a surprise. It was a cold February morning, but the joy from an upcoming moment that might make a difference in someone's life was warming our hearts as we drove the package to the Humanitarian Centre in Gabčíkovo, Southern Slovakia. We made everything ready in our IOM office and resisted adding a bow on the top of the box wrapped in IOM tape. We called her. A simple but elegantly dressed lady in her 70s peeked into the room and walked in, unsure what to expect. And then she gasped.

Maria (33) works 12-hour shifts as a dishwasher in an Italian restaurant. This afternoon, on her day off, she is spending time with her four sons: Maxim (13), Michal (11), Roman (10) and Eduard (7). As we talk, the boys come home from their activities and unpack their school bags in their modest, newly furnished rooms.

“I was born in the heart of Europe, in Rakhiv, a small town in the Zakarpattia region of Western Ukraine, not far from Slovakia’s Eastern border,” Hanna proudly starts her story. An old memorial dating back to 1887 and a new, silver-shiny modern monument designed by a local artist indicates where the geographical centre of Europe is set. 

“Doctors told me that they no longer have the capacity to help me, and my bed was needed for a patient who still has some hope of surviving. They had no hope for me. They said I have 2–3 months at most,” says Svetlana (41) from Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, holding her young son Nazar (1) in her arms.

It’s shortly after five o’clock in the afternoon and Tatiana has just arrived home from work. As she begins to tell her story, she sits on the couch, her hands clasped in her lap. She rubs one hand against the other and looks out the window as memories about leaving Ukraine rewind in her mind.

Recently, a family of four from Lebanon visited the Michalovce Transit Centre. Three siblings – an adult man and a woman with a little sister and their elderly mother – have been living in Ukraine for eight years.

Providing war-affected Ukrainians with accommodation and integration support during the months necessary for them to find employment and housing and to become independent. This has been the goal of the IOM’s (International Organization for Migration) Housing Assistance Programme, launched in Kosice in September 2022.

Yuliia and her 11-year-old daughter, Eva, lived in a small town close to Dnipro, Ukraine, enjoying a quiet and pleasant life together. At first, when the full-scale war started in February 2022, Yuliia didn’t want to leave Ukraine. “I hesitated for a long time. I could not imagine leaving my family and my homeland. I felt like I would betray them,” she says.

Bakhmut used to be a calm and beautiful place suitable for a peaceful life, until the war completely ruined it, just like it ruined the houses and lives of the people who lived there. Olena is one of them.

A very interesting interview took place a couple of days ago between IOM frontline workers and Anastasia at the Transit Center in Michalovce.