22 January 2024 - Ukraine

If violence erupted in your country and forced you to flee, what would you save?

Olga Shults, Save the Children's programme manager, is holding a girl at Child Friendly Space in Mykolaiv, Ukraine

Olga Shults, Save the Children's Food Security and Livelihoods Programme Manager in Ukraine, holds a girl at the Child Friendly Space in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. Photo: Oleksandr Khomenko / Save the Children.

If violence erupted in your country and forced you to flee your home, what would you take with you?

I’m Olga Shults, Save the Children’s Food Security and Livelihoods manager in Ukraine, and I know many families very well who were caught up in the bombs and violence of my country’s war who have faced that choice over the past two years.

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One story that has stayed with me that shows the choices that families are forced to make, is that of Mariia and her three children.

As the war closed in, she feared for their lives and had to make the agonising decision to leave their home not knowing if they would ever return. There was no way she could take everything they needed so she chose the things that mattered to her children the most.

Mariia took their hamster and their dog, and some of the children’s special toys. These might not seem like vital things to have in a crisis – but they eased the heartbreak of losing everything else. As well as the warmth and love of their pets, Mariia’s seven-year-old daughter Liya has her first ever baby toy with her – a cuddly sheep called Be-Be – which is a vital connection with the life she has lost but cannot forget.

The war in Ukraine has torn apart the lives of so many children like Liya. The choice she and her mum faced was the same choice people around the world face every day when conflict and violence threaten their lives. It is a choice I hope you never have to make.

It was a choice I faced too, when my family had to make the heartbreaking decision to flee our home in Mariupol. The city was surrounded, there was no way out. The electricity, water, communication, and heating was cut off. The city was being bombed.

We packed several times and were blocked from leaving several times. Each time I repacked, I changed what was included, and it became more practical.

When we could finally escape, we packed all our food. We took matches and candles, medicine and water. We took documents and jewellery (in case we needed to sell it), our dogs' bowls and our favourite mugs, utensils for cooking on a bonfire, and a tent in case we had to live with the dogs if we couldn't find shelter quickly.

Olga Shults, Save the Children's programme manager, poses for portrait with *Marta (left) and *Lera (right) holding gift cards at Child Friendly Space in Mykolaiv, Ukraine.

Olga Shults,  Save the Children's Food Security and Livelihoods Programme Manager in Ukraine, poses for a portrait with Marta* (left) and Lera* (right) holding gift cards at the Child Friendly Space in Mykolaiv, UkrainePhoto: Oleksandr Khomenko / Save the Children.

I deliberately didn't take my favourite New Year's things and accessories, thinking that I would definitely be able to come back for them. But things are as they are. Would I pack differently now? Of course, when we left, we realised that we almost didn't have any household items. I didn't take childhood photos, some other simple and valuable things for me. But knowing how many people died in my city, knowing how many people were killed in attempts to leave, I believe that we left with everything necessary, with family, dogs, and memories.

This is why I am so proud of working for Save the Children – knowing that we are there to help with everything that families forget and more importantly that can’t fit in a bag.

Thanks to donations from compassionate people like you, we can help families get through the worst when it happens and help them rebuild their lives afterwards. Then we can make sure they’re prepared the next time a crisis hits.

Donate now to help us support children in crisis.

Olena*, 17, poses for a portrait at her damaged school outside of Kyiv. Oleksandr Khomenko/Save the Children.

Your support means we can give families the essentials they need to survive – food, medicines, toiletries, warm winter clothes. But more than that we’re there to provide what you can’t pack. Safe spaces where children can play, learn and recover. Mental health care and protection services so children can start to feel safe again. A voice to speak out for them so their needs are not ignored. The chance of an education – so they can build a future better than their past.

In Ukraine, for example, we set up safe spaces with trained psychologists to make sure they receive the expert support they need to recover from the horrors of war. We repair and equip schools and nurseries and build temporary classrooms.

And in areas close to the front line, we distribute tablets pre-loaded with digital lessons to make sure children can keep learning even in the toughest of circumstances.
That’s because we know children need to grow and develop now – they can't wait until the war is over.

Your donation can provide families facing crises across the world with what they need to get through today, and what they need to build a better tomorrow. You can help us prepare better, respond faster and protect longer. Please be part of our global community to help children. Please give what you can.


This is how we help children around the world deal with crisis:

BEFORE: We help prepare communities for disaster – with stronger child protection services, better health care for mothers and children, and improved early warning systems.

DURING: When disaster strikes, every second matters. That’s when we provide life-saving supplies. Food, cash, clean water, shelter. Blankets to keep warm and toiletries to keep clean.

AFTER: We stay to help children recover and thrive – providing access to education, child-friendly spaces, psychological support and helping them fight for their rights.

Learn more about how we support children when a disasters strikes.

We stand side by side with children in the world's toughest places.

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