From the first day of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, I knew that I would not leave my country. My conviction grew as rumors about the atrocities taking place against women were confirmed – as did my need to act immediately, instead of waiting for the war to end.
The day war came to Ukraine, I woke up to my daughter crying at 5:30am. As I went back to bed and closed my eyes, I heard a powerful explosion and car alarms began to blare. I picked up my phone to see what was going on and floods of messages and Facebook posts confirmed my fears. I woke my husband up and told him that the war had officially begun. Ukraine was under attack.
Outside our window, a line of cars desperate to leave the city stretched past our house. We lived on the border of Kyiv, so we could also see the lights from enemy rockets as they fell on towns miles away. Towns full of families like my own.
Our daughter was only two years old at the time, so we decided it was best to leave the city and drive to a village to keep her safe. Enemy missiles flew over our heads the entire time as we escaped, our whole lives packed into two suitcases and one bag. We stayed in an old house built by my great-grandmother. '
Before she died, told my mother not to sell it, warning that "there will be a time when people will flee the city." How right she was.
Eventually, we were accepted into a student dormitory, where we lived with other internally displaced persons. There were women from Mariupol, Sumy, Bucha, Irpen, and Kharkiv. Every morning, we met in the kitchen to prepare breakfast for our children and we would talk, sharing news we were hearing from friends who had stayed in our home cities, under occupation. When they started sharing terrible stories of rape, I spoke to old contacts from my days working at the Kyiv Regional Council. Unfortunately, it was all true.
I spoke every day to friends from Kyiv. Like me, they also could not sit back and do nothing, waiting for victory. One day, I was talking to a friend about women being raped and survivors' need for psychological support. This is how The Andreev Foundation was born.
When our military liberated Kyiv, I dared to return home with a team of psychologists to help women survivors of sexual violence.
Understandably, it took time for these women to trust us. After all, in rural areas, people often victim-blame women who have been raped. Many closed themselves off from support, but once they began to talk, we could help them begin to heal and seek justice. Since talking about this kind of violence is too hard, we also started to work with law enforcement agencies to help prosecutors speak to the women correctly, so they don't get scared. By talking and telling their stories and acknowledging that they are survivors, we can hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions.
And, of course, our work does not come without risk. Last winter, one of our group sessions was disrupted several times when we had to shelter from missiles and drones being shot overhead. These are a constant threat to our safety. But staying here is worth it when a woman begins to live again after the suffering she has endured. It is a lesson for us all: follow the call of your heart.
If you want to help, just do it. If at least one woman changes her life thanks to you, it will be a colossal contribution to the victory of humanity.