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.

Bakhmut WM

IOM frontline workers provided Olena and her family with information about the housing programmes offered by the IOM and advised them on various issues. Photo © International Organization for Migration (IOM) 2023. 

Olena’s family used to have a small store that provided a livelihood for the whole family. “That day we woke up thinking it was an earthquake,” Olena says, remembering the first day of the invasion. The family stayed at home until the last moment, hiding in the house because there was no basement.

The situation worsened in the upcoming weeks, and the family store was destroyed during one of the bombings. “The store is gone, and my house is also gone. And many young men, regular customers of my store, who were just walking down the street, are also gone,” Olena says, saddening as she talks about her life in Ukraine.

The unbearable conditions in Bakhmut, which has been constantly under bombing and shelling, forced Olena, her daughter Anastasia and her 7-year-old grandson Nikolai to leave this city. In April 2022 they went to Kyiv.

Olena wanted the whole family to go to safety but her husband and son-in-law refused. “They did not want to leave Bakhmut under any circumstances. They sent their families to safe places, and they are sitting in basements almost all the time,” Olena says, explaining the situation of her divided family.

After the situation with energy supplies worsened in Kyiv during winter, Olena decided to go to Slovakia with her family. It wasn’t easy, because Nikolai has a mild degree of autism and special needs. The family had difficulties finding suitable accommodation, but thanks to the IOM and AirBnB housing programme, they found a short-term solution.

“Nikolai cannot stay without his mother for a long time, so Anastasia is now looking for a job with the opportunity to work from home. Nikolai has many needs; he needs constant care and development,” Olena explains, but she hopes that everything will be fine for them one day.

IOM frontline workers provided the family with information about the housing programmes offered by the IOM and advised them on various issues. Olena and her family also received humanitarian aid and warm clothes.

The names of the persons have been altered to protect their identity. These stories are collected by IOM frontline teams with the consent of the respondents.