How emojis in Ukraine save the lives of those who cannot hear

Lena, Ukraine

by Sarah Easter, Emergency Communications Officer, CARE Germany and CARE Austria

22 February 2024


“I am lucky, because I can at least hear the loudest and closest explosions. This could one day save our lives.” - Lena

Everyone in Lena's family has a hearing impairment, with her father hearing nothing at all. When you hear an explosion in Ukraine you either run, hide, or throw yourself to the floor, depending on how close it is. Every child, parent, grandparent knows how to react in order to save their lives.

But what happens if you can't hear the explosions?

"Those who can hear a little or can feel the vibrations or see the smoke, send a bomb emoji in our group chat or just ‘Boom’ so everyone knows that they need to find shelter immediately,” explains Lena who is a local leader in an association for around 60 people with hearing impairment in Pokrovsk and the surrounding settlements in Eastern Ukraine.

“The quiet and distant explosions are usually a signal that more missiles are coming. There never is just one and they come usually closer and closer. But we do not hear the distant ones. Therefore, our neighbours help us and tell us when we need to hide,” says Lena.

Sviatlana in community centre, Ukraine

Image: Sviatlana at a local community centre. Image: CARE/Sarah Easter

Lena's friend Sviatlana, 70, who accompanies Lena for moral support, as she has difficulties talking about the war without feeling deep emotional distress, has a hearing device. But at night she has to take it out. “Some tell me that they are envious that I do not hear, because then I also do not feel the fear they have. But I feel even more fear, because I cannot hide as quick as they do,” says Sviatlana. Some members of the association have dogs that alert their owners when there are explosions. “They go completely mad, they run around in circles and bark wildly. So, we take our cues from them and go find cover,” describes Lena.

Explosions nearly every night

Bomb damage in Ukraine

Image: A residential building which was hit directly by a missile. CARE/Sarah Easter

The air strikes have increased since the new year started. “It is very scary, we do not go to sleep before 2 a.m. anymore, because most of the time the missiles come before that. But not always. Two nights ago, the rockets came at 3 a.m. We were sleeping and then the whole bed jumped and shook. We then all ran into the corridor to get away from the windows,” remembers Lena.

Now they experience explosions nearly every night. “We really hate the nights,” starts Lena and interrupts what she is saying, because it is emotionally too difficult for her to continue. Sviatlana takes her hand and continues. “We are so afraid for our children and we cannot leave, because it is too expensive, since we only have a small pension.” Sviatlana’s pension is around 60 Euros each month, rent in the relatively safer Western part of Ukraine is around 450 Euros for a single room apartment each month.

Wartime unemployment - five million jobs lost

Community Center Pokrovsk - Lena, Ukraine

Image: Lena at a local community centre. Image: CARE/Sarah Easter

Many people with hearing impairment lost their jobs in the beginning of the escalation of the war two years ago. Lena included. She was a gardener on a farm and took care of the flowers. “Pokrovsk used to be full of flowers. Pink, white, and red roses,” says Lena. Finding a job in war time is difficult for everyone. Many enterprises were destroyed or stopped working. In the first months of the war, nearly 5 million jobs have been lost in Ukraine. “I tried to find a new job. My daughter Sofya asked me to stay home, because she is so afraid when I leave the house,” says Lena. As someone who cannot hear the incoming missiles it is also a higher risk factor for Lena to leave the house.

“You have to drop to the ground immediately after an incoming explosion to save your limbs, but if we cannot hear it coming, what shall we do?” - Lena

Without a stable income and only the meagre pension of her parents, Lena tries to sell everything that they do not need. “Whatever we are not able to take with us, if we have to flee suddenly, I sell to survive. For example, the TV or washing machine,” she says. The last thing she sold was her daughter’s running sneakers. “She used to do field track running at school, but that is over now. She does not need the shoes in war.” Lena sold them for around 8,50 Euros and used it to buy some butter, fresh baked goods, and a hot dog for Sofya. “We must save on everything because it is not enough. My parents grow a few potatoes and tomatoes in the garden, which we can eat,” she continues.

"That is why we are grateful for any humanitarian aid," Sviatlana adds. "We received a hygiene kit, which is normally very expensive, and it was very helpful.” The hygiene kits were distributed by a CARE partner and included some towels, toilet paper, toothpaste, shower gel, soap, wet tissue, sponges, and detergent. “We tried to save as much as possible, so it would last us longer. We also have to save water, because the system is overloaded, and we only have water for three days in a week. So, we have full buckets, pans, and bottles of water in our apartment everywhere.”

Sviatlana takes Lena’s hand again and concludes by saying:

“We just wish that people with hearing impairment are considered more in this war. It is very difficult for us to survive.”

Two years of war in Ukraine: Your support has been invaluable

CARE aid distribution in Ukraine

Image: A distribution of humanitarian aid in Kherson by a CARE partner organisation. CARE/Halyna Bilak

February 24th marks two years since the escalation of conflict in Ukraine. The ongoing war has brought unprecedented challenges, with nearly four million people internally displaced and almost 720,000 in the worst-affected parts of the country left with no access to adequate and safe housing.

Thanks to the generosity of supporters to the DEC Ukraine Appeal, CARE has been able help over 1.2 million individuals affected by the conflict in Ukraine, providing people like Lena and Sviatlana with essentials for survival.

Find out more about CARE's response in Ukraine

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