No Way back

The fights in Eastern Ukraine forced family Komashko to flee. They left everything behind and started a new life from zero. Even though their homeland is not far away, it’s unattainable.

IMG_0482Big politics doesn’t matter to Lilya Komashko. She doesn’t want to search for a culprit. Who is responsible for the war in Eastern Ukraine? The Maidan-protesters, the Nato, the Kremlin? She doesn’t know the answer. Putin? Poroshenko? She shrugs. The mother of seven just wants a normal life. „I don’t want to speak about politics or choose a side. I just want peace and these people to find an agreement”, the 37 year old says.

When the fight began, she and her loved ones have been fleeing precipitately out of the separatist territory. They had to leave behind their big house with a garden in Makijiwka, a town next to Donezk. Lilya Komashko tells her story while she stands in a small kitchen with hardly any furniture. The small room belongs to an apartment in a prefabricated building block in Kramatorsk, in which the family found shelter – just 50 kilometers away from the frontline.

Again and yet again the offspring clings on her coat-tails. Totally unaffected she tells her story, while holding her youngest child in her arm, the one year old Maria. No, she doesn’t want to speak about politics, about the reason why all this might has happened. But she wants to speak about the fate of the people in the Eastern Ukraine and make it heard. “We asked our neighbors to look after our house”, tells Komashko. “But however we are frightened that everything will be stolen, once we get back.” Many displaced are in the same situation.

The eldest daughter Natalia misses her piano. Before their escape from Makijiwka the 15 year old girl practiced every day. She could just save her violin, she is treating like a treasure now. While her mother tells this story, she gets her instrument and gives a taste of her skills.

The family has never been rich, but never as poor as now. Without the help of NGO like Caritas and others their situation would be even worse. The money is just enough to buy basic groceries and hygiene items and pills for the grandmother. But because of the help of the social workers, Lilya Komashko is able to send her children to school again. Even though they have been send to a lower grade and feel under-challenged.

The prices for everyday items are high in Kramatorsk. But in the separatist territory they are nearly unaffordable. “Everything has become very, very expensive and it’s really hard to get fresh water”, tells Lilya Komashko about the daily life in the world behind the checkpoints of the Ukrainian Army and the Separatist Fighters. “It’s nearly impossible to get meat. A sausage factory has totally stopped the production. The people are starving”, she says.

DSC_0343The Komashko family is not an exception to the rule in a region, where according to the United Nations around 1.2 million people are internally displaced and 800,000 fled the country. It’s horrific numbers like that, which are distressing Andrij Waskowicz, the president of Caritas Ukraine. Even though they just got a funding of two million Euro by Caritas Germany and the German Ministry of Foreign Affair, help can just be provided punctually.

“Nobody was prepared for this kind of catastrophe”, Waskowycz says. “All virtual mind games have been focusing on scenarios concerning natural hazards.” No one would have expected the outbreak of a war. And the Ukrainian Government is not able to satisfy the humanitarian needs, he states. “They are fixed on the expensive defense of the country”, Waskowycz says. “Furthermore the funds of the state have been looted by former politicians.”

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The civil society is not as developed as in other European countries. After the war struck the Ukraine, even the local Caritas had to adapt very quickly to the political changes. New partners have been acquired and several new employees been hired. In Kramatorsk, where the Komashkos found a new home, Father Vasyl Ivanjuk as the local president of the Caritas takes care of the internally displaced from the east of the country.  He is also responsible for the relief aid in Slovyansk, the city where it all began and where the shelling destroyed many buildings. Ivanjuk and his staff distribute chip cards to the most vulnerable. With the cards it’s possible for them to withdraw some money from the ATM – to cover the most urgent needs.

Ivanjuk is not just a priest anymore. He is a social worker, a psychotherapist and a logistics specialist. His aim is to help as much families in need as possible. So they can return to their home towns after the end of the war. Something that Lilya Komashko dreams about: “Every day my children ask me: “When are we going back?” If they say that, it’s hard for me not to burst into tears.”