Eight months ago, Olha Andriienko lived a 'wonderful' life in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. She worked for a media company, teaching English as a second language. Her daughter loved dancing, her son played basketball. There were trips to the swimming pool, family dinners, and plans for the future.
Like the majority of people in Kyiv, Olha, 38, and her family lived in an apartment. But last year they bought a small plot of land outside the city, on which to build a house. "In Ukraine, people don't usually buy houses, they build them," Olha explains. It was to be the house of their dreams. "I had all the plans, I was even thinking about what furniture to choose," she says.
But then on February 24th, at 4am, Ohla received the phone call that changed everything. The call was from her sister in Chernihiv in the northern part of the country, near the border with Belarus, where Ohla grew up.
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"She was crying, telling me that there were tanks in the town and rockets were flying," recalls Olha. "It was just before those rockets started falling in Kyiv." I literally had 15 minutes to pack my stuff," she says.
Ohla, her husband, and their two children, Viktoriia, 14, and Illia, then 12, left their home with just two pairs of pants, a t-shirt, a pair of shoes, and their beloved Yorkshire terriers.
The family fled to Olha's husband's parents' house 70km away, while the sounds of war filled the sky. "They were everywhere, you could hear those jets flying," says Ohla. As they cowered in a basement, listening to the rockets, they knew they had to escape. A military base just a few kilometers away meant the area was a potential target.
"Everybody was petrified. It was this very high level of adrenalin, mixed with fear, anxiety, some instinct to survive," says Olha. Her husband begged her to leave, "to take the children and live the life," while he stayed behind. It was an agonising decision, but one Ohla had to take. "There was no choice," she says, recounting the 'unbearable' moment of saying goodbye.
She blinks at the memory, fighting to keep the tears behind her eyelids. But they escape, betraying the pain, the trauma, the loss. "I cry every day," she says.
Olha, Viktoriia and Illia fled to an abandoned house in a remote, rural area with no gas, no electricity and no water, except for a well. The only consolation was that they had managed to take the dogs with them.
They stayed there, in the 'middle of nowhere' for 12 days. However, with Russian soldiers advancing from multiple locations, Ohla says they were in danger of becoming trapped, encircled by the invasion. Once again, they had no choice but to leave - this time across the border.
They made it into Moldova, 300km away, before crossing into Romania, and then Bulgaria, where they managed to find a place to stay. It was while in Bulgaria that Olha received a text, from someone she'd once met on a teaching course. He offered her sponsorship and invited Olha and her children to stay with him at his home in Barnstaple.
Olha gratefully accepted. However, it meant leaving their dogs behind. Without documentation, the dogs weren't permitted to travel. Devastated, they took the animals back to Ukraine - to the western and safest part of the country - for another heartbreaking goodbye.
Now, three months on, Olha and her children are safe in Barnstaple, living with "this amazing person, who just gave us his house." Viktoriia and Illia now attend Park School. But like their homeland, their lives have been shattered beyond recognition. And Olha admits they are struggling.
"It's extremely difficult for them," she says. "They put all the blame on me. They want to go back and I understand that. But they can't see the bigger picture."
Despite her outward strength, Olha too is reeling; suspended between the past and the future in a present she never imagined. A new country, a new half-life, away from her husband, her friends, her family, her dogs, and her mum who couldn't bear to tear herself away from Ukraine. She doesn't know when she'll see them again.
"It's like every day I have to break a small part of me to be able to adjust," she says.
Yet she's a mum, she has to keep going. Every day, she applies for jobs, hoping to get work as a translator, or a teacher. Every day she gets the kids to school and makes them dinner.
Olha can't think about the future. So instead, she cooks. Food from her homeland, like syrniki - small, thick sweet cheese pancakes made with a kind of cottage cheese - and traditional soups, like the clear chicken broth made with meatballs and spaghetti that her children love. It's not home, but at least it tastes like it. Food has become a source of comfort for them all, a culinary anchor to the life they once knew and loved.
Ohla has no idea when they might be able to return to Ukraine. But she is also aware that when - or if - they do return, it won't be their old life.
"I am afraid that even if we win (the war) tomorrow this won't mean normal life," she says. "So many cities were destroyed, so many people killed, so many industries completely damaged; people lost their jobs, their houses."
"I think no," she continues. "I think life will never be as it was. I think we'll never be able to forgive, we'll never be able to forget. War has been done to our cities, our people, our nation. It is a nightmare what Russia has done there. It's genocide."
Olha is of course hugely grateful for the support she's received in Devon. However, she says the world needs to step up. The alternatives, she believes, could be far worse.
"Europe and the whole world is very supportive and welcoming but this is not enough for my country to win this war. It's not only about a safe place to stay," she adds.
"As a Ukrainian, I understand that nobody will fight for us, only Ukrainian men will fight. But we don't have weaponry, this is what Europe can help with, this is the only way for us to win."
"I think that everybody should understand that if Ukraine fails, what will be the next country? Putin will never stop. This sense of imperialism will never die while he is alive, so what will be the next country?"
The small plot of land Olha and her husband bought last year is still there; still intact - for now at least. Sometimes, Olha dreams of the home they'd once envisaged, before the tanks moved in.
"I still want to build a house," she says. But then she falters. "It's difficult to dream, you know. It's too risky."
She hates the word refugee because it conjures up the image of 'someone with no choice'. "We had no choice, but we had a great life," she reflects.
Then somehow she pushes it all back inside; the fear, the anger, the memories, the relentless homesickness, the profound pain of separation. And somehow, she gets ready to meet her children, to cook dinner and carry on. Because for now, that's the only choice she has.
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