Ukraine: “One, two, three, it is only fireworks, four, five, six, only fireworks”

Ukraine - Olga

by Sarah Easter, CARE Germany and CARE Austria

31 January 2024


“When a missile comes flying towards you, it is the whistle sound that you hear first.” - Olga

It is as if the air is being split apart and then you hear the explosion. The shrapnel is flying in all directions. Windows are bursting. Houses are vibrating and beds are shaking.

A sound of destruction, fear, and despair. A sound that hits you to the core and forces you to react. For Olga and her nine-year-old granddaughter, Darya, it means: Get at least two walls between yourself and the missile to slim the chances of being directly killed, therefore, hide immediately in the small corridor.

Olga is from Pokrovsk, a small town in Donetsk Oblast in Eastern Ukraine. She recalls one of the recent attacks, a few moments before midnight on New Year’s Eve: “I grabbed my Chihuahua Busya, while Darya started counting and convincing herself at the same time.

‘One, two, three, its only fireworks, four, five, six, only fireworks, fireworks, fireworks, seven, eight.’“

A night where you can hear fireworks exploding in colourful flashes all around the world. Here, seven air strikes injure a nine-year-old girl and a 70-year-old woman and damage 16 houses.

“Since that night, there have been two or three direct hits in our town every single night,” says Olga, holding tightly onto the edge of the table she is sitting at.

“We have been taking shifts every night since then, to stay safe.”

One person stays awake while the others are sleeping to listen to the explosions and to wake the others when it is time to run to the corridor or the basement.

“My granddaughter Darya takes the first shift. She stays up until two in the morning. Then my daughter takes over the next three hours and then she comes and wakes me for the rest of the night,” explains Olga. Darya tries to distract herself while playing games on the phone.

The recent attacks have intensified since New Year’s and forced Olga and her family to create a system in which they can survive. Six months ago, the apartment was hit directly. The balcony and windows were destroyed. Recently a partner organisation of CARE helped to restore the windows.

Ukraine - Olga

Olga outside the local community centre

The community centre that Olga and her granddaughter visit three or four times a week offers psychosocial support for free, a project supported by CARE and partners.

Since the escalation of the war nearly two years ago, there have been no activities for children in her town. “Here Darya can let out her energy and she can be a child again, even if it is only for an hour,” says Olga while children are playing in the background.

“This helps us to continue. At night we take shifts to listen to the explosions, run and hide, and during the day we learn how to deal with the panic and how to breathe again.”

There are several individual or group sessions and especially children can find activities like drawing and art sessions here that distract them from the fear and terror for a little while. “Since coming here, I feel much better. I don’t take as many sedatives anymore. It is like a breath of fresh air, and we remember how to live again,” describes Olga.

Latest news from CARE