UKRAINE - 24 February 2023

Safe in Brovary

“I tell the staff of SOS Children’s Villages that they scare me, because we never had so much help,” says Valentyna Chernyuk, a foster mother of four children from Kherson region who now live in SOS Children’s Village Brovary.

All of her life, Valentyna, 44, kept busy with her household, vegetable garden, animals and poultry in a small village in Kherson region. She also often looked after the elderly people from her village.

At age 29, she became a foster mother to a little boy. Since then Valentyna raised nine children: her biological son and four foster children are now independent adults, while other four foster children, ages 5, 8, 10 and 12, still live with her. “I have one of the most wonderful callings in the world – to be a parent to children who need a family,” Valentyna says. “I love them so much!”

From bad to worse

When the war started, some of her adult children with their families fled to Odesa region. Others, and Valentyna with the little children, stayed in Kherson region, which was occupied for a long time.

The occupation didn’t break Valentyna’s routine of helping the elderly while still caring for her children. She kept busy with local community farms that provided free bread and milk. But, each day became worse than the one before. Tanks roamed around, aircrafts in the sky. The children were scared. They cried and began experiencing enuresis. At night, they would all squeeze in Valentyna’s bed. “They felt safer close to me,” Valentyna says adding that, sadly, the children got used to the grim dailiness.

Valentyna says that in the autumn of 2022, foster families of the area were offered compensation for registering the foster children in school. That’s when Valentyna decided it was time to leave.

For my children

“I started searching online how to escape,” Valentyna explains. “I found an organization that was evacuating women with children. I wrote to them, they answered immediately, and we left our village on the next day.

“We headed to Zaporizhzhia by bus. There were only women and children on the bus. We spent the first night in the fields, sleeping on the bus’s floor, because the Russian soldiers would not let us through.

“I remember I was the last one in line at the checkpoint. The soldier poured all of his anger at me. He called me humiliating names, swore and cursed at me for having many children. I endured, I kept silent, only hoping that he wouldn’t check the children’s documents and find out I wasn’t their birth mother.”

Where do we go?

“We arrived in Zaporizhzhia the next day. Volunteers met us. We spent the night in a kindergarten sleeping on matrasses on the floor. When the volunteers brought food, they asked us if we have anywhere to go. We didn’t. I was born and lived all of my life in my village. Where could we go?

“The volunteers put us on a free bus to Kyiv where we arrived that night. Nobody was waiting for us. Eventually, some other volunteers offered that we stay the night at the train station. We slept on our towels on the floor. I couldn’t sleep. Soon, heavy rain started. The children got scared.

“I didn’t know what to do, so I got online again. I started writing in the foster parents chat chain. Someone from SOS Children’s Villages answered and told us to wait and not move, they were sending a car for us. The driver arrived, and took me and the children to the SOS Children’s Village in Brovary.”

In our fairy tale

“I thought they would let us stay for a night or two. Instead we got a fairy-tale. I’m not used to that. I was helping people in my village, and here I was getting someone else’s help.”

Since that day, Valentyna and her four foster children live in the SOS Children’s Village Brovary.

“We live in a warm and comfortable house. The children go to school and kindergarten. They attend all sorts of extracurricular activities like Lego building, painting etc. A speech therapist works with my five-year-old girl who has has speaking problems. The other children see a psychologist, get tutoring in Ukrainian language and math. They missed a lot because back home, the school had technically stopped first due to pandemic and then because of the war.”

Good comes back

Valentyna stresses that she and her children are doing very well now. “It’s warm at home; we have food, the people of the SOS Children’s Villages, wherever they meet us always ask if we need anything. I tell them that they scare me, because we never had so much help.”

She regularly keeps in touch with her adult children in Kherson and Odesa. “I’m a grandma too,” she adds in tears, adding that they long for going back home. “We’ll wait for victory and go back home. I love our life there and our household. As soon as our village is freed and we’re given the green light, we will go back.”

Until that day comes, the family is safe in SOS Children’s Village Brovary: “I still can’t believe our luck being here in the SOS Children’s Village,” Valentyna says. “I keep asking people whether it’s true. People tell me to believe it is. And sometimes I think that all good done, does come back.”

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