WASHINGTON — Marina Skulko, a Ukrainian mother of three, has celebrated Mother’s Day and all other holidays differently since saying goodbye to her husband and fleeing her war-torn homeland more than a year ago to find refuge in neighboring Moldova.
Mother’s Day is even celebrated on a different day in Moldova — on International Women’s Day, March 8 — not the second Sunday in May as it is in Ukraine, the United States, and dozens of other countries.
But Skulko has learned to adjust to small things like this and the bigger challenges of being on her own when most Ukrainian men, her husband included, have been banned from leaving the country. She left everything behind last March 2, less than a week after Russian troops invaded and occupied parts of Ukraine.
In an April 27 interview with The Tablet, translated from Russian, Skulko recounted how her two boys — Maxim, 7, and Roman, 4 — initially were very confused and didn’t understand why they had to relocate.
“It was hard to explain the reasons. I tried to support them with a mother’s love and surround them with love,” she said, which meant cheering them up and cuddling them a lot. Three months after arriving in Moldova, the couple’s baby, Diana, now 10 months old, was born.
“Right now, it’s much easier with a place to stay. It’s less trouble at the moment,” she said, with her children talking to her and playing in the background.
But when they first arrived, she said it was “a big challenge” because they had nowhere to go and didn’t know anyone in the country. A family took them in for a few months until Catholic Relief Services, working in the region with Caritas partners, found Skulko and her family an apartment and provided furniture and appliances.
Now, she said the boys are in school making friends and are much happier.
Amid the current day-to-day challenges, she is extremely thankful for the help her family has received “without asking anything in return.”
And as she steers her three young children in a new environment, she’s also very appreciative to have her mother with her, who relocated with them and has supported her daughter and helped with the children.
“I don’t know how I would have faced this challenge and the hard times” without her, she said, adding: “Thank God for my family,” noting that many others have faced more difficult challenges without extra family support.
Skulko is hardly alone in finding refuge in the Eastern European nation of Moldova. Since the end of February 2022, more than 780,000 Ukrainians have come to this neighboring country, and more continue to arrive each day, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Catholic Relief Services, the overseas relief and development agency of the U.S. bishops, has been working with Caritas partners in this region for several years. The agency has been on the ground even more since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, meeting the immediate needs of refugees and people displaced within Ukraine.
As the war continues, CRS is helping with longer-term needs by providing cash and housing assistance and addressing the mental and emotional toll of displaced Ukrainians.
A CRS informational sheet about their work in the region points out that refugees arriving in Moldova early last year were mostly women and children, often arriving with only a backpack filled with their most essential items, with little or no cash.
Those who have stayed, it said, “tend to be the most vulnerable without the resources to move on to a European Union country and/or wanting to stay close to Ukraine in the hopes of returning quickly.”
Returning home is very much on Skulko’s mind.
“Our biggest hope is to go back, that is our biggest dream,” she said, adding that the future is very uncertain, and no one knows what will happen.
Skulko, who is Orthodox, said her faith has been a big support to her and her family in this time of uncertainty, giving her hope and strength at a time when both are in short supply.
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To help CRS’ efforts with Ukrainians, you can donate here: https://support.crs.org/donate/donate-ukraine