Seventy-year-old Tatsiana, lived her whole life in Mariupol. Almost.
Almost. Schoolgirl, college graduate, factory worker, bride, mum, grandmother, widow and retiree. She expected to lay her bones down in her home town, by the Azov shore. But life held one more stage for her: refugee.
Like millions of her compatriots, Tatsiana never believed that war could start, but one day, the date etched on the hearts of all Ukrainians, war arrived, foul, loud, and deadly.
February 24 was early to be in the dacha, but the weather was fine and Tatsiana was outside the city in her small country house.
With all the road into Mariupol blocked she stayed there for a month. But she wasn’t alone. All the neighbours united helped one another, sharing food and time together.
But the reality of the war got so unbearable that the decision was made to flee. As many other Ukrainians, Tatsiana continued to doubt herself: “Maybe we could have stayed. Some people are staying somehow, and they survive”.
Now she lives in the Belarusian city of Vitebsk. Her late husband’s relatives invited her to come, sheltered and helped her with integration. Luckily many people in Belarus provide a helping hand to their relatives in Ukraine.
Belarus was not an unfamiliar place to her; together with her late husband from Belarus, they often visited his relatives and explored the green landscapes and historic heritage of the neighbouring country. Little did she imagine it would become her new home.
Tatsiana, though grateful for the life-saving support and kindness of her close ones, wanted independence. She took up a job as cleaning lady in one of the schools and now lives in a dormitory very close to her relatives’ place.
Having a job, a sense of worth and purpose gave her so much joy. “I missed communication so much”, she says, recalling the laughter of kids at school, the warmth of relatives and colleagues, and above all the calm quiet of the city she temporarily calls home.
Nevertheless, she misses her only true home – Ukraine – and dreams of coming back to peaceful Mariupol, the city of Mary. To the smell of the sea and the setting sun.
“I’m glad that I have a place to live, that I don’t hear the bombs any more, that I have heating, electricity and services,” she sighs, with seventy years of memories etched on her face, a glow of hope in her bright blue eyes.
“But I really want to go back to Mariupol. I hope I will live long enough. Of course, everyone wants to be home. Home is home.”