This summer will be the fourth anniversary since Iryna, a resident of Lugansk, has been living in Odesa with her two sons and a bag of summer clothes. All this time she is vainly trying to settle in a new place, bewildering people around her with cheerfulness and spiritual strength.

Iryna and I are sitting in the room of Odesa Psychosocial Center. Since 2016, more than 100 IDPs from Donbas has been permanently residing here, and Iryna shares her small room with her two sons – Misha and Tolik, ninth-graders. It is not the first time she has started a new life, but the first time she has done it in another city, with her home and own business left behind in Luhansk.

The first time was after the USSR had collapsed. Salary in the school, where Iryna had been working as a music teacher for 18 years, was no more enough to feed herself and her little son. Sale of knitwear in the market eventually gave money for a 3-room apartment and her own shop. Confident in her future, she even took decision to adopt a child, and Misha got his brother Tolik.

Anastasiya Marchuk/ICRC

A drawing by Misha occupies an important place in the room.

“We lived a good life,” Iryna recalls. “We could afford tutors and interest groups for a child, yet my son was bored. I thought he would be happy to have a younger brother, but the second son appeared even one year older than Misha.”

In summer 2014, Iryna and her children went to the seaside to Mykolayiv region, having taken clothes just for 21 days. As it turned out, there was no way back. She tried to get a job as a school teacher in Smila (Cherkasy region). There she was offered only a part-time position and even working extra as a cleaner in a shoe store did not help much. A phone call from Odesa saved her: IDPs started settling in suburban sanatoriums, and there was some place for Iryna and her children as well.

“I guess it was then that our family stuck together truly,” our heroine recalls. “They realized their mom would never leave them.”

Search for work continued in a new location, then she was diagnosed with diabetes, and all savings were paid for the urgent surgery and expensive treatment. Now Iryna receives financial assistance from the ICRC, where she asked to find her ex-husband with whom she had lost connection back in 2016.

“We needed this help badly,” the woman says. “The boys grow fast, winter clothes alone cost so much!”

Anastasiya Marchuk/ICRC

Hamster Timur, a pet of Misha and Tolik.

Besides, Iryna enrolled in a retraining program for temporarily displaced persons with another humanitarian organization and began studying English at 46. And it is not a piece of cake.

“But I am not giving up, it’s all about practice,” Iryna underlines. “That is why I volunteered to work as an educator in the children’s room equipped in our center by a charity foundation. There is a volunteer from Germany speaking good English. I practice with her. Recently I have taken a language test; my sons were sitting listening to me, and then they said: “We did not know you speak so cool!” It was the best praise to me.”

Now she hopes that in future she will be able to earn extra money giving private lessons for schoolchildren. Iryna laughs and jokes a lot, but she becomes sad when mentioning her home city. She confesses she often dreams of Luhansk. According to her, absence of her own apartment is the biggest problem. However, she already connects her children’s future with Odesa and she is sure that her sons will be able to lead a good life and start their families here.