Far From Home: Martha’s Story

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Martha’s Story

Martha, aged 3, was diagnosed with autism just a month and a half before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Worried about their safety, and with Martha’s condition deteriorating due to the war, her mother Yana, 32, and her grand-mother Lily, 55, decided that they all needed to flee their home. 

yana's daughter, Martha, playing
Martha plays with her toys in their new apartment in Poland.
Taking shelter in a nearby factory became the norm before arriving in Poland.

At the sound of sirens, three-year-old Martha ran to her mum and grandma’s side, begging them to help her get dressed and put her shoes on so she could run to the bomb shelter. But there was no need. The family was safe in Warsaw, Poland. 

Just a few months earlier, the habit of waking up at dawn to flee to a nearby factory that doubled as a shelter had been a regular occurrence for Martha, her mother Yana, and her grandmother Lily, from Cherkasy in central Ukraine. The shelter was damp, and in the winter, it was very cold. Martha was diagnosed with autism just a month and a half before the Russian invasion. 

The family had never left Cherkasy, let alone the country. “Your house is your home,” says Yana, with a sad look in her eyes. It is palpable how hard it was for the family to leave Ukraine. 

Before the war, Lily and Yana used to help vulnerable families in Ukraine, and it was through fellow volunteers that they got connected to hosts in Poland. Nevertheless, they struggled for stability; two days with a couple here, a week with a family there, finally a month in a house somewhere in Warsaw. Lily suffers from cancer. And Martha’s autism complicated matters for the family. Feeling they had no place left to turn, the family began making plans to return to Ukraine. 


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A New Opportunity  

Just when they were about to give up, a Good Samaritan reached out to volunteers from Habitat for Humanity Poland. Soon enough Habitat’s representatives were greeting them at Habitat’s housing help kiosk at Warsaw’s train station. Though the waiting period for housing is usually long, Yana’s family was lucky. 

“They took us to an apartment – just for us! I was in shock,” says Yana. “We were so desperate; we would have been glad to share a bed between the three of us. But the volunteers made us so happy! They brought us pots and pans, dishes, blankets, and personal hygiene products. They even brought me a new mattress!” 

The apartment, although small, has everything they need. Yana likes the neighbourhood and is spending lots of time at the local park with her daughter.

Yana and grandmother play with Martha in Poland - ukraine crisis
The family together outside their new apartment in Poland.

“Habitat volunteers, Tania and Carolina, are always calling us asking how we’re doing, and if there’s anything else that we need,” Yana continues. “My mother’s treatment involves self-administered shots, which need to be kept cold. The refrigerator wasn’t working very well, and they Habitat immediately replaced it with a new one,” she said with a smile. Although Lily’s condition is terminal, she is slowly starting to feel better.”

A New Future

While the family hopes to one day return to Ukraine, for now they feel safe and supported. This is thanks to Habitat for Humanity Poland’s social rental program, which has been adapted to serve refugees and has helped hundreds of people who fled Ukraine find a place to live in Poland.  

Yana and family feed habitat staff visiting them - ukraine crisis

Today is a good one day for Lily and Yana. They have prepared a lunch to share with their visitors (pictured above), three Habitat employees who have visited. Martha excitedly helps her mother bring extra chairs into the kitchen. They are eager to play the role of host. And with each bite of food and bit of conversation, the apartment feels a little more like home.  

“This apartment has become a real home. We feel very safe and comfortable here” – says Yana.

Martha, daughter of Yana, safe in her new home - ukraine crisis


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