29-year-old Yana and her 2 minor children, by God’s grace, were able to escape from a village in Kherson region, now occupied by Russian forces.

After escaping from 20 Russian soldiers who broke into her house, crossing 63 check-points and crossing a river with a white flag, Yana and her children are now safe, living at a shelter for internally displaced persons at Lviv Theological Seminary in the western part of Ukraine and are provided with everything they need thanks to the help of Operation Blessing

I had to leave my amazing home,” Yana recalls “the house that was equipped with my own hands. I had to save on everything for my whole life to be able to build this house. The invaders were even a little afraid of my house, they were saying that “a mad woman” was living there. I realized the importance of my house only after I lost it…” 

One day, when the Russians were already occupying the city of Kherson, I was working in the garden when my daughter came running and frantically pointed to the Russian soldiers who broke into my house like thieves. About 20 men wearing uniforms with Russian flag made their way into my house climbing over the fence like robbers. In an instant, my house was filled with chaos, terror, and a huge number of evil soldiers.

They were looking for my husband, who had served in the Armed Forces of Ukraine since 2014. My children were taken away to different rooms for interrogation. They interrogated me, my 14-year-old daughter and my 4-year-old son separately.

Fortunately, I answered their questions out loud, and the children heard what they had to say about their father’s whereabouts.  I said that he was working in Poland but he was actually in the hospital with a concussion after a shelling. They could not find my husband or any signs that he was living with us. The children were asked some provocative questions: “Who are the Russians?” and “What shall we do with the Russians?

Then I frantically ran away from the hands of the soldier who was interrogating me and said: “Give me my children back”. He pulled the shutter of his machine gun and said: “You are dead”. 

Then, out of desperation, I went on the offensive, yelling at him: “What kind of soldier are you after attacking a woman with children with your machine gun? Where is your honor as an officer? There are  twenty of you and I am alone, and you break into my house? You’ve scared my children!” I felt that they were surprised and would not shoot, and I had already chosen the attack tactic as the right decision in this situation.

In the end, the occupier said: “Well, you are a crazy woman!” And they suddenly left. We had the impression that God himself took them away from us. They just left without causing us any physical harm to me or the children. I could see that my courage and recklessness impressed them. 

As soon as they left the house, I started collecting things for evacuation. The only way to evacuate at that time was to cross the local river which was 3 km away from my house. As it turned out later, three kilometers were an eternity. You won’t believe it, but we has to cross as many as 63 checkpoints. We took a taxi, for which I paid 3,000 hryvnias (over $100)- that’s a lot for three kilometers. Almost every 10 meters there was a new checkpoint. We were searched, stripped, interrogated.

I tearfully told all the occupiers that I was going to the next village to pick up my sick mother and this legend saved us. In this way we reached the village where there was the place to cross the river and reach the humanitarian depot, from where, according to people’s rumors, volunteers were helping to evacuate to the western part of Ukraine. Before getting into the boat, I asked the village headman, “Is it really safe?” He replied that two days before, the occupiers shot at a boat with people who eventually died. Therefore, he could not guarantee that we would survive. While we were crossing the river in a boat, my hands and body were shaking so much that I could not sit still. My hands were completely uncontrollable.

Thankfully, God helped us again. We raised the white flag showing that there were children in the boat, and that may have saved us. We saw the occupiers face to face, pointing machine guns at us, but they did not shoot. I am brave in life, but the fear that they would shoot us never left me for a second. My only hope was for God and for the white flag. Thus, we reached the humanitarian center where we had to wait for the evacuation bus. Fortunately, we were lucky and three days later volunteers came to us and brought us here to this shelter at the Lviv Theological Seminary.

We were welcomed here as a family. They provided us a hot dinner, a warm shower with all the necessary hygiene items, accommodated us in a cozy room free of charge and provided fragrant bedding.

Since then, we have been living in this cozy shelter for 4 months. I don’t know why God loves us so much, but we live here like in paradise. I have never met such and overwhelming care, understanding and attention. Adult refugees even have the luxury of having coffee and tea, and children always have fresh fruit and sweets. We are provided with hot meals three times per day and the variety and abundance of food is amazing. We have fish and meat and several courses for each meal.

I am endlessly grateful to “Emmanuel” Association for all-round support and helping us with food, vegetables and fruit. I am also very grateful for the donated household appliances that help us with cooking, household needs, laundry, cleaning, etc. We cook here for 30-50 people at a time. Equipment from the “Emmanuel” association helps to cook much faster and better.

Without this vital support we would not be able to provide for ourselves and would be destitute like many unfortunate refugees. It is very important to have a washing machine, a hair dryer, a blender, and a coffee maker at hand. It really comforts a little and gives a minimal feeling of home and hope for the best,” Yana thanked with tears. 

The OB Ukraine team continues to monitor the most urgent needs of internally displaced persons. We continue to custom-clear,  receive and distribute OB disaster relief cargos. As of August, Emmanuel Charity Association (OB Ukraine)  has received 59 truckloads with food, hygiene, blankets, clothes and other items aimed at helping internally displaced persons like Yana and her children. We thank God and every partner for this opportunity to serve these people in need.

To make a donation https://helpua.org/en/home-en/

Anna Chaban, CBN-Еmmanuil