Around the world, refugee women and girls continue to break barriers, smash stereotypes and work tirelessly for a better tomorrow despite coming up against some of life’s most difficult challenges.
In Romania, UK for UNHCR recently met with women who were forced to leave everything behind in Ukraine, learn more about their stories and how donor support is making a difference. Three of these women – Ekaterina, Maryna and Yuliya – told us about the perilous journeys they were forced to make to reach safety.
After spending the first days of the war living between their house and bomb shelters, Ekaterina and her young son fled their home near Kherson to reach safety in March 2022. Photo: UK for UNHCR / Ioana Epure
Ekaterina has now found work at the Seneca Anticafe, while her son is enrolled in a local school. Photo: UK for UNHCR / Ioana Epure
“The day the war started, my husband and I couldn’t believe it. It seemed to us like some kind of nightmare. We were hoping we’d wake up any minute and everything would go away. I had to leave my home and my career behind – let go of it all, leave the country and save my child. That was the most important thing for me at that moment.”
After spending the first days of the war living between their house and bomb shelters, Ekaterina and her young son fled their home near Kherson to reach safety in March 2022. Taking what they could carry, Ekaterina and her son said goodbye to her husband and family.
They travelled through Moldova and reached Romania, moved by the public support they received on the way. Once in Bucharest, UNHCR supported Ekaterina with cash assistance, which helped her cover essentials for herself and son when they first arrived.
“People were so ready to help us.”
Like many refugees, Ekaterina’s ultimate wish is to return home where she was a wedding photographer, but for now she and her son are picking up their life in Bucharest.
In Romania, she has found work at Seneca Café, which is a bookshop and shared working space. She is learning Romanian and making close friends within the local community, such as her colleague Stefanie, in addition to helping other Ukrainian refugees.
Yuliya was a schoolteacher before the war in Ukraine, living in the Chernihiv region. Photo: UK for UNHCR / Ioana Epure
After the invasion began, Yuliya’s family home was in an occupied zone and was destroyed by shelling. Photo: UK for UNHCR / Ioana Epure
Yuliya was a schoolteacher before the war in Ukraine, living in the Chernihiv region. After the invasion began, Yuliya’s family home was in an occupied zone and was destroyed by shelling. Following this, she and her son spent three months trying to survive without regular access to power or running water, before finally escaping to Kyiv. It took almost ten hours; before the war, it would have taken around 45 minutes. Eventually Yuliya and her son fled to Romania, where Yuliya had friends.
On arrival in Bucharest, UNHCR supported them with cash assistance which helped Yuliya buy food and clothes for her son as they had only been able to carry two bags when fleeing.
Yuliya says, “Assistance turned out to be a huge support for us. It allowed us to buy food and so on. My child needed rehabilitation.”
Yuliya feels the biggest need for refugees in Bucharest is education, so she wants to help Ukrainian children continue their education. Now, she is helping primary and secondary age refugee children keep up with their syllabus at a Ukrainian school in Bucharest.
Support in Romania is helping Ukrainian children through education. Yuliya tells us, “250 Ukrainian students study here, and 15 Ukrainian teachers can work here.”
Before the invasion, Maryna was head of supplies at a building materials company. She loved living in Odesa with her family near the seaside. When the war came, it was hard to sleep, work or live a normal life. She decided to leave to save her daughter. Maryna organised a convoy of four cars, fleeing with other mothers and their children, including her sister-in-law, best friend and their children. She says if she had more time, she would have taken more people.
They are now living in Bucharest and received cash assistance from UNHCR when they arrived. This helped her buy things for her children, like medicine when her daughter was sick. Maryna explained that cash assistance really helped give them hope and some space to think about what to do next when they first arrived after fleeing.
“We are very grateful for this help and for the fact we were not left to the mercy of fate. When we first arrived and didn’t know what to do, it was invaluable. It gave us hope and made it possible to stop and think what to do next.”
Almost a year on, Maryna has carved out a role for herself – organising tours to help her fellow refugees learn more about Romania and take their minds off the troubles back home. Her daughter is keeping up her studies, learning Romanian and potentially applying to a local university, if the situation in Ukraine continues.
But for now, the dream is to return home one day. “I don’t realistically see the end of the war,” says Maryna. “But I really hope it will be soon, because I’m already missing everything and everyone. I just want to live a normal life.”
UNHCR continues to support families displaced by conflict in Ukraine. To learn more about how to help, please visit.
To access the latest data and reports on UNHCR’s vital work in Ukraine, please visit the Ukraine Operations portal.