June 19, 2017 18:02

World Refugee Day 2017: We spend all our money on our sick little son

Sergey with his family

On the occasion of World Refugee Day on 20 June, we tell the stories of some of the refugees and displaced people that are supported by our members.

"We spend all our money on our sick little son," says former miner displaced because of the conflict in eastern Ukraine

Located approximately 30 kilometres from the eastern Ukraine frontline, the town of Soledar (literally "Salt gift") is famous for its salt mines, which are the largest in Ukraine. Fighting ended here two years ago, but the war has left a great mark on the town. Opportunities for work at local mines have significantly reduced, as have salt exports, leaving many local people unemployed. The many internally displaced people who have been forced from their homes by the conflict – have very little chance of finding a job.

Around 500 displaced families live in Soledar today. Alliance2015 partner People in Need is supporting 30 of the most vulnerable through a “Cash for Work” project funded by the European Union Civil protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Department (ECHO). Over a 10 day period, project participants cleaned up an area where a playground will be installed. They mowed the tall grass, cut down the bushes, removed all the garbage and prepared the ground for further work. Working 4 hours each day, beneficiaries received about 2,400 hryvnia ($ 100). The participants are doubly motivated by this work, because almost all of them have children who will soon be playing here.

On the move

Sergey (38) is a former miner and an internally displaced person who is taking part in the project. He introduces us to his family. "OK, my boy, tell us!" Sergey says to his three-year old son, Kolya, who is hugging his dad's leg. The boy’s face turns red and he runs away to his toys. He is too small to say – and maybe even to understand – that his family is settling in a new place for third time in two years.

He does not remember Torez, the small town in the non-government controlled area of Ukraine, where he was born.  Little Kolya, his father Sergey and his wife Lena (22) escaped the fighting and moved to western Ukraine, then returned east to Druzhkovka in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, only to move again to Soledar this spring.

"In summer 2014 the plane (Malaysia Airlines flight MH17) crashed not far from us and then the mine stopped working, so we decided to leave our home,” Sergey remembers. He and his wife saw that there could not be a peaceful life for Kolya or themselves there. Their little boy also needs special medical treatment, which the local hospitals could not provide.

Struggling for their son

"We knew about the sickness from his infancy," Lena says. Kolya has problems with his eyes and also a severe kidney disease – which caused his left kidney to expand significantly and be only 20% effective before the surgery. "We had the surgery in Kharkov last autumn. The treatment cost us 60 thousand hryvnia (about 2,400 USD)," Lena explains. The couple spent all of their savings, and also had to ask for money from their relatives, friends, and various charity funds in order to meet the cost.

"Smile! Why are you looking so serious, Kolya?,” the mother asks her son and picks him up again, although his father does not usually allow the grown-up lad to sit on his mom’s lap.

Kolya can’t go to kindergarten. "He needs a doctor’s note confirming that he is healthy," says Sergey with frustration.  They are trying to save money for a medical examination in Kharkov. Sergey finds seasonal jobs from time to time and Lena does night shifts at the food store so that she can still spend the daytime with Kolya, as Sergey’s small pension doesn’t cover the family’s expenses.

They had not received any humanitarian aid for almost a year until People in Need’s “Cash for Work” project began, giving them a chance to earn some extra money to buy warm clothes and vitamins for Kolya. If any money is left over, they will buy some warm clothes for themselves too.

Home away from home

In the cosy yard outside their house, far from the town, a huge mongrel dog called Yarik watches strangers as they pass. The family moved to Soledar empty-handed and found this house through a friend, so they do not pay rent. They collect water from the well and firewood from the forest.

“We have already planted potatoes, beets and carrots and we still plan to repair the fence, paint the house and revive the garden," Sergey says with a smile.

- Maria Lozan, People in Need Ukraine

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This story is part of Alliance2015 World Refugee Day campaign, featuring stories of refugees supported by our members. For more information about the campaign and other stories, please click here.