Elderly Odesa Couple Takes In Dozens Of Ukrainians Displaced By War

ODESA, UKRAINE — In late April, Larysa Petrychenko made the difficult decision to flee her two-room apartment in the southern city of Kherson with her two children, Lolita and Misha. Kherson had been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war, and life there was dangerous.

“One day there was a rumor that there was cell-phone coverage near the post office,” Petrychenko told Current Time, the Russian-language channel run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

“Everyone rushed to get a signal to contact their families. At that moment, an armored personnel carrier (APC) with machine guns drove close by. They could see that a lot of people had gathered there and just started shooting at their feet, in order to disperse them. People scattered in all directions.”

“We decided to take the children away because we didn’t know what would happen there, what they might do,” she said, referring to the occupying Russian forces. “And no one else knew. We left to be in free Ukraine.”

The soldiers rode around in APC firing their guns. It was very scary.

Lolita, 12, also remembers the first weeks of the war. “I can’t forget,” she said. “At night, when they were bombing, we could see the glow. We could see the rockets flying. Our beds were shaking.”

“The soldiers rode around in APC firing their guns. It was very scary,” she continued. “They stole cars. They stole cars from the police. They took the blankets and sofa from our house.”

When Petrychenko and her family left Kherson, they had no idea where they were going or where they would end up. According to the United Nations, they are among the 12.8 million Ukrainians who have been displaced since Russia invaded their country on February 24. About 7.7 million of them are internally displaced inside Ukraine.

For the Petrychenko family, the road led to Odesa and the home of Volodymyr Martsenyuk and his wife, an elderly couple that has opened their doors to 30 countrymen displaced from the conflict zones to the east. The Martsenyuks own a plot of land with two small houses, one of which they live in and a second one that, in peacetime, they rented to migrant construction workers.

“When the war began, we realized we couldn’t leave the place empty,” Martsenyuk said. “People should live there.”

“We have to help out,” he added. “If we don’t help, we won’t win. But if we support one another, victory will come sooner.”

Now the building houses 30 displaced people from the embattled Kherson, Kharkiv, and Mykolayiv regions. Martsenyuk said he was ready to set up more beds and take in more.

The couple refuses to take money from their guests and say they don’t have time to apply to the government for subsidies. Volunteers and aid organizations help with food and other necessities, Martsenyuk says.

“We are all one people,” volunteer Bohdan Medvedyev said. “They need help. And if someone else suddenly needs help, we’ll help them, too. People have to come together because nothing will come without that. Only together can we achieve anything.”

The displaced families at the Martsenyuk home say they are living like one big family, looking after one another’s children and celebrating holidays and birthdays together. They talk about visiting one another after the war.

Volodymyr Martsenyuk, although he is confined to a wheelchair, has also promised to visit all of them. An avid fisherman, he has promised to bring each of the children a fishing pole.

“I really want to go home,” Lolita Petrychenko said. “And to go back to school. I have never wanted to go to school so badly before.”

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