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“Our peaceful life came to an end.”

Valentine Pomaza, an 84-year-old Ukrainian internally displaced person (IDP), arranges flowers in the shelter room in Vynohradiv she shares with a friend from back home in Kharkiv. Photo: Simon Chambers/ACT

March 31, 2023

By Janice Biehn

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Valentine Yakosleva Pomaza, 84, has lived most of her life in Kharkiv, Ukraine. She was a teacher, and lived on her own, but her good friend Luba Pavljenka Petrovna, lived in the same building. 

“Kharkiv was a beautiful city with a rich history,” she said. “Three companies operated there, employing 13,000 people in factories producing material for the military, tools for lighthouses, 80% of the optical tools in the USSR. …There were lots of good schools in Kharkiv.” 

But Kharkiv’s beauty and prosperity changed with the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022.  Kharkiv is one of the Ukrainian cities that has suffered the most. “Now, the city is almost entirely destroyed,” says Pomaza. “Our peaceful life came to an end.” 

Approximately 42,000 people have been killed, 58,000 have been injured and 14 million people have been forced to leave their homes, sheltering in other parts of Ukraine or another country. According to Reuters, at least 140,000 buildings have been destroyed. PWRDF donors have responded generously, with more than $1.2 million given to date.

The donations have made a world of difference to women like Pomaza and Petrovna. On March 11, 2022, they fled Kharkiv for Svyatogorsk, but had to flee again. “It was like a scene from the movies,” Pomaza recalled. “The train station was packed with people, some shouting, others running, children crying. It was horrible to experience in real life.” 

After a harrowing train journey to Lviv, they moved on to Mukachevo, and finally to Vynohradiv, where they are now two of 52 residents in a long-term shelter provided by Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA), a member of the ACT Alliance. PWRDF has allocated funds to HIA from the very early days of the war, with grants now totalling $170,000.

Here, at last, they have found a welcome and a home. “I know there have been tensions between eastern and western Ukrainians,” Pomaza said, “but I don’t feel them here. We were welcomed and sheltered and supported in Vynohradiv. The people here respect us.” 

She is very grateful to the local government and to all who have helped her in her long journey across Ukraine, from the east to the west. She has added her own decorative touches, arranging dried flowers and branches to bring beauty to her new home. 

While she would like to be able to go home to Kharkiv, she is also happy to stay in Vynohradiv, in the room she shares with her long-time friend Petrovna. “I am 200% satisfied here,” she said with a smile.

– with files from the ACT Alliance

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For media requests please contact Communications Coordinator Janice Biehn at (416) 924-9199;366.

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