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Olga Makar

Witness, Ukraine

It is such an honor to speak to you today.

Just like millions of other Ukrainians, on 24th February I woke to the sound of explosions not far from home. What we thought of as impossible was happening, what seemed to happen only in places faraway, not in our country. The Russian army had invaded Ukraine, and war had begun. In that moment our life changed forever. I took my two little twin children, my mother, and fled from Kiev towards western Ukraine. My friends, my husband stayed back in Kiev. They spent their nights in the underground stations and shelters. The house of the Youth for Peace of Sant’Egidio in Kiev was struck by a missile while eight people were sheltered there. It was a miracle that they were unharmed.

In these months we have heard many horrific stories. They touch us intimately: our relatives, the people we know, are in the army, in the front line, others live in the cities that have been struck, some are wounded, others have been killed, some were taken prisoners or are missing. Grief has become normal. We wake up in the morning and we check what was blown up during the night. Then the air-raid warning sirens go off and we take shelter in the inner corridors in our apartments, or in the underground shelters. We have stockpiled water and food. At supper we discuss how to prepare for a nuclear explosion.

An uncle of mine lives in the area of Kharkiv, in the city of Izjum. With his family he lay hidden for weeks in the cellar of his home while there was fighting in the streets. His little granddaughter asked him “Grandpa, bring me some tea, please”. He left the cellar and went upstairs. In those few minutes a missile struck the building and all his family died: his wife, his daughter, his son in law and his grandchildren. My uncle survived, but it took him four hours to get out from under the rubble. “I do not know how I can live now, I do not know what to do” he says.

That question “How can I live now?” is the question every Ukrainian asks him or herself.

In those first days of war, when I felt my life was broken, I found an answer: our houses are destroyed, our cities are in ruins, but our love, our solidarity, our ability to help others, our dreams cannot be destroyed.

Before the war at Sant’Egidio I used to do a school of peace with children. In Spring 2021 we went for a picnic to a park in Irpin’ with the children. I went back to Irpin’ to bruing relief aid recently: the city has been through a lot, the houses and schools were destroyed, people on the streets tell you about how they lost their loved ones. But in Irpin’ we started a school of peace. For many children it has become the first place where they laugh again, where they play and find new friends.

Many found an answer to war in helping others. The Community of Sant’Egidio started helping in the very first days. We distributed food on the streets to the homeless even when Kiev was under attack, when the streets were dangerous. We opened centers for refugees, where we offer them food, which is generously and lovingly sent to us from Europe.

Step by step, heart after heart, we rebuild that peace that was broken. We need peace, we cry for peace, we dream of it. One day this war will be over, and that day will bring new birth to everyone. Today all of us - each of us with the little strength he or she has - we want to make that day closer. I am grateful to each of you, for seeking ways to restore peace in Ukraine, to put an end to this horrific war and save the people who suffer.