Traveling Back to Shelled Orphanage in Donbas
An orphanage in Ukraine's frontline town of Maryinka closed five years ago. At the time, it was home to more than a hundred children. When the war in Donbas began, the staff had to flee the town, saving themselves and the kids
Olha worked there as a teacher. She could barely hold back her emotions.
Since the start of Russia’s undeclared war in eastern Ukraine, the building has turned to ruins.
“This used to be a history classroom. Everything was well-furnished,” she said as she walked through the ruins.
It was where Olha began her teaching career. The orphanage had modern educational facilities, well-equipped classrooms, comfortable housing, and professional staff. All this allowed orphans to get a good education, learn their first profession and do art. Teachers were like family for them.
“It’s so nice when my children, and I consider them to be my children, call me and say ‘How are you, mom?'” Olha said.
The orphanage employed dynasties of teachers, who also lived nearby. Now, their homes are constantly shelled by Russian-led militants.
“Probably all of our hearts remained here. Everyone who worked and lived here. It’s ours – our native land. And now you look – and it’s all overgrown and broken,” Olha said.
Five years ago, Russian hybrid forces advancing on Maryinka shelled the area. The orphanage was hit. The militant units later demanded the school’s management hand over the children, so they could be sent to Russia. Despite threats, the staff secretly transported the orphans to the government-controlled territory.
Later, they moved. Like many of her colleagues, Olena fled her home — but she didn’t go far. Now, she continues working with kids at the Maryinka Children’s Art Center.
“We lived in Ukraine and still live in Ukraine. I love Ukraine, it’s my motherland,” she said.
Olha lived there for more than 30 years but lost everything in just a few days. Everything there reminds her of the life she had.
“The first thing I felt was fear. But then, I felt that I’m home. We bathed here. There was a mermaid here on the tree and a cat here. We spent our whole childhood here, everything happened here,” she said.
Olha says she would go back if she had a chance, just like thousands of others whom the war has forced to leave their homes.