In February 2022, we sent a team into eastern Europe in response to the Ukraine crisis, and we’ve been there ever since. Now, one year later, we’ve made an impact and met some amazing people along the way. The following stories and photos from Ukraine offer a glimpse into the harsh realities and the hopes of so many people who have faced immense change in the past year.

One year of drastic change

Picture your life a year from now. Where do you think you’ll be? On February 23 last year, it’s hard to imagine that Ukrainian citizens could predict what was about to happen. Life was normal. That morning, people woke up, made their morning coffee and got their kids ready for school. They went to work. Maybe they met up with friends after their day at the office, or they watched a show before bed. They had no idea their lives were about to change.

But on February 24, 2022, everything did change. The Russia-Ukraine conflict began, starting a year-long series of airstrikes and attacks that continue today.

Life can’t be normal when bombs are falling in your backyard and destroying your city. It isn’t normal to spend weeks in a bomb shelter, praying for survival.

On this one-year mark, imagine what it’s like to be Ukrainian. How would it feel to wake up one day and realize that in order to survive you have to leave everything you know behind? How would it feel to wake up in an unknown city or country, wondering how long you can stay? One year ago, people didn’t know that in the year to come they’d be left wondering, how long can I keep my family safe and healthy? How do we survive?

Every day this past year, someone like Oxana or Natalia or Svetlana left their home behind. There were days where basic necessities, like fuel and electricity, were hard to come by. Cooking and staying warm was a struggle. It’s been one year of navigating a new, unsettling way of life.

Sometimes it’s difficult to grasp the breadth of a situation when it’s covered in the news. Hearing that 14 million people left their homes behind in Ukraine in one year is overwhelming. That’s over 38,000 people every day — the equivalent of a mid-size town in the U.S. moving completely.

When we only look at the big picture, we start to disconnect from the reality of what continues to happen today. Let’s zoom in. Out of that 14 million, let’s focus on one person at a time.

As you read the following stories and see the photos of these incredible Ukrainians, one theme rings true: hope.

Many people have said, “I won’t give up hope.”

What they mean is they won’t give up on home.

Join us in honoring the stories of these resilient people as we remember that even in the darkest of times, hope is alive. We pray they know they are not alone. We have not forgotten.

Our gratitude goes out to our very talented friend, journalist Stefanie Glinski, for capturing these beautiful Ukraine photos and stories.


Ukraine photo: a mother and son sit on a couch
Oxana, a psychologist with Medical Teams, and her son, Maxim, in Moldova.

Two months after the invasion of her city in Ukraine, and after suffering multiple terrifying panic attacks, Oxana packed a few of her belongings in her car. Then, she and her two sons fled home.

She would have done so much earlier, but it took her weeks to find enough gas to fill up her car’s empty tank.

Thirteen checkpoints later, Oxana and her two children made it safely out of Ukraine to Moldova. They left their comfortable apartment and the psychology practice she had been running for the past decade.

But Oxana says she won’t give up on home.

She recently joined a team of incredible women who have been keeping Medical Teams’ clinics across Ukraine and Moldova running. She’s back to working as a psychologist, offering counseling to fellow Ukrainian citizens who have fled their homes in the past year.

Joining Medical Teams has also made settling in Moldova much easier for Oxana and her family.

“Even though I’m not in Ukraine anymore, I can still make a difference among Ukrainians in Moldova. I hear people’s stories of war. I can relate to them, and I hope I can help them process what is happening in our home country.”

She and her sons are determined to go back, and she reminds her patients to stay hopeful.

“I tell them every day: don’t give up hope.”

Natalia, Milana, and Andrej

a mother holds her young daughter while her son plays with a red balloon
Natalia with her son, Andrej, and daughter, Milana.

The first rockets to hit Natalia’s village landed close to her house. Each shockwave was deafening, and she and her family were terrified.

Before the war, Natalia and her husband had always called their small village in Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast region home. The narrow streets were quiet and tree-lined, the air was fresh, and each one of the quaint colorful houses was different from the other.

After Ukraine was invaded last year, they didn’t think they’d be forced to leave. But their village quickly turned into a nightmare. Air raid sirens sounded frequently, and the smell of rocket fire and burnt houses lingered in the once-fresh air.

Soon after the invasion, Natalia’s husband had to join the army, leaving her at home with their kids. Whenever the sirens sounded, she’d grab them and head for the basement. Life became unbearable.

Natalia dreaded the dark nights, the sound of explosions, the fear in her children’s eyes. Their cries broke her heart.

In early summer, she decided it was time to go, even though she’d be leaving her home and everything they knew behind. The decision was especially difficult because her husband wouldn’t be able to join.

“I made the choice for my children,” she says.

“I wasn’t so much scared for my own life, but worried for them. I knew I needed to leave to protect them, even though this meant heading for the unknown.”

Natalia now lives in Izmail, a small town in southwest Ukraine she’d previously never heard of. A friend had told her about a university dorm-turned-shelter that was still accepting residents, and today she shares a small furnished room with her three children.

The first months in Izmail were especially tough. Being dependent on food and clothes donations felt humiliating, Natalia admitted, and turning the small dark dorm room with its empty walls into a home wasn’t easy. Flashbacks to the months spent in war-torn Donetsk came frequently.

“I was so tired,” she explains. “I didn’t even have the energy to fully be there for my children, or to set up our room.”

In early November, Natalia first met with Iuliya, one of Medical Teams’ psychologists.

“I started [individual counseling sessions], and it’s been difficult but good at the same time,” Natalia says. “It’s tough to talk about my memories and it makes me cry, but it helps at the same time.”

“Many of them were suspicious at first,” Iuliya, her psychologist, says about the women she sees. “People don’t like to admit that they need help, and talking to a psychologist is often still associated with weakness here in Ukraine.” But the mothers Iuliya met with kept coming and opening up about their experiences.

Even Natalia’s oldest son Kiril started talking to Iuliya. “We mostly do crafts together and draw pictures, but it helps him process the war, the separation from his father, and the move to Izmail,” Iuliya explains.

Natalia says she doesn’t know how much longer she’ll be in Izmail.

“We can’t go home, so we have to make this place home.”

Talking to Iuliya has helped Natalia accept her current situation.

“I know I want to get better,” she says, “and I want to make the best out of our time here.”


Ukraine photo: a woman in a green coat, smiling
Aliona has been volunteering at a Medical Teams pharmacy since March 2022, in the early stages of the crisis.

Aliona, a pharmacist, also fled to the Ukrainian town of Izmail. Though she has struggled with the enormous changes to her life, she jumped at the chance to volunteer at the Medical Teams pharmacy. Three days a week, she spends her mornings in the small, heated room stocked with medicine, taking orders and distributing stocks. A month ago, she gave birth to her second child — a little girl she named Vasalisa.

“My husband had to join the army, so my mother helps me at home. I’m afraid, of course, and it’s difficult be without him, but I’m very proud as well,” Aliona explains.

“This has been the most difficult year of my life,” she says. “At the same time, I’ve learned who I can count on and who will support me. Even here at the pharmacy I’ve found an amazing network of women who stand by my side.”

Even though it’s been difficult, Aliona says she’s not ready to give up hope yet.

Victoria and Dimitri

Ukraine photo: a woman smiles with her young son as they wait in a line of people
Victoria with her son, Dimitri, waiting to receive blankets in Izmail from Medical Teams.

Victoria and her son, Dmitri, came to Izmail recently. She originally fled her home city when it was occupied by the Russians, making it into Poland. But after only a few months, she realized she wanted to be closer to home, so she returned to Ukraine.

She says that before they left, “The city was bombed and shelled and it was very dangerous for me and my son. I left everything: my life, my apartment, my job, and my son’s nursery.”

When she heard that her city was liberated from Russian control, she cried and screamed in happiness. “It’s not safe yet to return, but the day will come,” she beams. “I will kiss the ground of my city.”

While waiting in line for blankets from Medical Teams in Izmail, she reflects on what she has lost. “I don’t think I really understood what home really meant until it was taken from me,” she says.

“I didn’t really understand the concept of homeland, but once it was gone, I knew exactly what I was missing.”

In Izmail, she’s staying with friends. She barely brought anything from her home city and time in Poland.

“I’m thankful for the donations we are receiving from Medical Teams,” she says. “The blankets will help us stay warm during winter, especially if we don’t have gas and electricity.”

Alina and Makar

a woman and her young son pose for a photo while waiting in line
Alina with her son, Makar, waiting to receive blankets in Izmail from Medical Teams.

Alina and her son Makar recently arrived in Izmail, Ukraine. “We’re thankful that we’re receiving help here,” she says. “We’ve been given blankets, clothes, and food.”

Alina admits that at first it felt humiliating to accept donations. “When we lived in my hometown, Mykolaiv, we didn’t depend on aid,” she explains. “I had my job, and my son was going to kindergarten.”

When the conflict started, Alina and Makar escaped to Switzerland. People welcomed them, gave them an apartment, and showed them their beautiful country. Though they loved Switzerland, Alina said it just wasn’t home.

“I decided it was time to return,” she says. “Izmail is safe enough.” She knows now that they won’t leave Ukraine again until they can return safely to Mykolaiv.

“We will stay here until we can go home,” she says.

Being back in Ukraine and closer to home just feels right to Alina.


Ukraine photo: a woman sitting on her bed, arms folded in her lap
Larissa is a shelter manager at a university, where Medical Teams is offering psychological support to displaced Ukrainians.

Larissa and her daughter fled their home city of Mykolaiv in March. They’ve been living in a shelter in Izmail, Ukraine ever since.

Larissa described their former apartment as very nice. Life was good.

Everything changed when Russia invaded. She says, “At home, we had to stay in a bomb shelter for 16 days, and I am still not sure how we managed to flee.”

When they made it to Izmail, Larissa quickly realized that more than 80 people lived alongside her in the shelter. They needed one person to represent them. She took on the job and now talks to humanitarian organizations about what she and the other Ukrainians need.

“Recently, Medical Teams started offering psychosocial support to people here,” she explains. “It’s very helpful. I attend a group session myself.”

She knows the road ahead will be difficult, but she’s hopeful.

“People are opening up and it has brought us closer together.”


a woman looking down at her phone
Svetlana, a displaced Ukrainian in Izmail, attends a group therapy session with Medical Teams.

Before they left home, Svetlana and her husband spent several days in a bomb shelter in their basement. They stocked it with food, candles, and cushions. They weren’t sure how long they’d have to remain underground.

Two weeks into the conflict, a missile landed in their backyard. Their windows shattered from the strength of the shockwave. They left for Izmail after that because home no longer felt safe, even in their bomb shelter.

Svetlana says, “I’m attending Medical Team’s group sessions here and what has been most helpful to me were other people’s stories.”

Though she misses home, she takes comfort in her fellow Ukrainians.

“Everyone understands the pain of losing your home, of having to live through the war. I was comforted and felt like I wasn’t struggling alone.”

One year of hope for home

These stories and photos from Ukraine demonstrate incredible resilience and strength. Still, Ukrainians are ready for home. And until they can get back there, we’re using our resources to help alleviate some of the challenges of being temporarily away, like access to medical care. Partner with us today to help those in Ukraine and around the world.



Lauren Odderstol
Photographer, Storyteller & Producer