Ukrainians hosted by the Kenup Foundation open up about war and the anxiety they are suffering while their fathers and husbands stay behind in their homeland to fight. Story by Mark Laurence Zammit
Ukrainians living in Malta have spoken about the horrific bombings that forced them to flee their country and their constant worries about relatives left behind, some of whom are fighting on the front lines.
Sixteen-year-old Ilya Kolesnikov came to Malta with his mother, but his father, a Ukrainian army general, stayed behind to fight for his country.
“When I remember all those times I played football with my father, it breaks my heart. I just want to be able to go back to that,” Ilya told Times of Malta, sobbing.
“We speak to him every day to make sure he’s still alive. But we never know what might happen tomorrow.”
Ilya’s grandparents also stayed behind, and he says he feels devastated when he hears them crying on the phone and speaking about the fearing of dying.
Russia invaded Ukraine eight weeks ago, starting a bloody war which has already taken thousands of lives, and there is no end in clear sight.
Ilya’s father tells his family that the Ukrainian army is succeeding in protecting the big cities, but he says the Russians keep pushing in.
Ilya is among about 30 Ukrainians who fled their war-torn country a few days after the war began, and crossed over to Poland, where they acquired a refugee status, and landed in Malta last month.
They were welcomed by the Malta Council for Science and Technology and a private medicine faculty, EDU, along with Kenup, an international humanitarian foundation.
Days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the foundation, which operates from Malta, asked its employees to start working from home as it transformed its offices into housing units, equipped with bedding, wardrobes, appliances and bathrooms with the help of a number of Maltese businesses.
MCST executive chair and Kenup director Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando said they will be accommodated for as long as needed and provided with meals, free of charge.
'Normal life went completely crazy overnight'
Three of the mothers, Svetlana Kolesnikova, Viktoria Vidmysh and Inna Bolbot, said they feel extremely grateful for the kindness that the Maltese people showed them, saying if it were not for Malta, they might not be alive today.
However, they long to return home to Ukraine, to be united with their husbands, friends and family.
“The first thing I do every morning is check my phone for news from my husband, to make sure that he’s still alive,” said Bolbot.
“Thanks to the kindness of the Maltese people, we can protect our children in a place where they don’t need to hear or see the war.
“But we are still guests here, and we miss our country.”
Meanwhile, in Malta, Ilya and his friend Denys Bakhmatskyi, who is also 16, found themselves acting as fathers for their orphaned families.
“It’s too early. I always imagined I would be a father one day, but not like this. I’m not ready to be a father,” Denys said.
“Normal life went completely crazy overnight, and I just wish it’s a bad dream that we can wake up from and have breakfast with our families and go to school normally again.
“But it’s not a dream, and what you see on television is just a small part of the real situation.”
Bombs just kilometres from home
“We don’t want anyone to feel what we are feeling right now,” says Ilya, who recalls feeling his home shaking as the first bombs of the war-hit buildings a mere three kilometres away from his house.
“This is not what our childhood should be like. We should be playing games outside and going to school, but not this.”
And these families are the lucky ones.
Some of their acquaintances were shot in their own cars as they tried to escape while others have no means of fleeing and are still trapped there.
They say all their family members are still alive and their houses have not been hit, but Vidmysh says they lost many of their friends.
“We used to call our friends and say, ‘how are you?’ Now we ask, ‘are you still alive’?” Bolbot said.
“Every time you go to sleep could be your last time. You don’t know whether you’ll wake up. Every sound you hear, of planes flying or shots being fired, could be your last,” Bakhmatskyi says.
“Why do you kill children? What harm did they do to you? If you think about it, you wouldn’t do it.