From Ukraine to Bulgaria with Julia, or how family is always the right direction

This is the story of Yulia - a strong woman who touched us with her stoicism and ability to unite, lift the spirit and to support others

November 08 2022

This is the story of Yulia – a strong woman who touched us with her stoicism and ability to unite, lift the spirit and to support others, even when she herself is struggling.

Yulia is 52 years old, originally from Dnipro, a small town in the Zaporozhye region. The war has caught up with her family and there was nothing else left for them to do, like millions of other Ukrainians, but to pack their entire lives into a few backpacks and head into the unknown – where they at least will be away from the bombs. Yulia was the one who decided to leave. On March 4, she, along with her daughter and two grandchildren, left the only world they knew behind and headed for Poland. Fortunately, the family was taken in by volunteers who managed to help them cross three countries (Slovenia, Hungary and Romania) to end up in Bulgaria on 8 March. Julia’s family’s plan is to settle in Sofia, where their friends are providing a roof over their heads.

About a month of their stay on Bulgarian soil passes, when Julia realises that despite the misfortunes in her homeland, despite the changes they are going through, life goes on and she has to pick herself up. There has been a pressing problem in her family for a long time which needs to be resolved, albeit here, where she hardly knows anyone. One of Yulia’s grandsons, Andrei, 6, has mental retardation and development problems. The boy speaks with a limited vocabulary and also has difficulty chewing food. Andrei doesn’t communicate and has a difficulty to accept strangers. Isolated from his environment, having experienced the horror of war and being in a foreign country, communication with others becomes even more difficult for him.

In May, Yulia learned about our program for working with Ukrainian children with developmental difficulties and contacted us asking for support. We take Yulia and her family’s case to heart because they reminds us that difficulties come to make us stronger.

We started working with the whole family, initially providing them with humanitarian and hygiene packages, finding a personal doctor for the children, and enrolling 11-year-old Evgenia in a Bulgarian school. The girl also received prompt dental care, combined with a consultation with an allergist to have two of her teeth treated with anesthesia.

We knew that our work with Andrei would be more long-term because of his specific behavior, but we were confident that we would be able to help him. The beginning was difficult because the boy didn’t want to talk to us. He refused to come into the room, running scared and erratically through the corridors. But little by little, step by step, Andrew began to relax in front of us. After a consultation with our child psychologist and early childhood development specialist, a detailed plan for our future meetings, classes and activities with him was mapped out. From a rambunctious and frightened child, with each meeting we saw Andrei become calmer, start to join in the games with the other children and even start to smile.

Our work with Andrei continues, and each meeting with Julia reminds us that sometimes you just need to know you are not alone to gather all your inner strength, stand firm and believe that a better future is yet to come.

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