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Ukraine: The Harrowing Stories of Evacuating in Kharkiv

Project HOPE supports evacuees fleeing Russian attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine

By Courtney Ridgway

Washington, DC (3 June 2024) – Russia’s ground offensive on the Kharkiv region has caused over 12,000 people to evacuate and leave their communities behind, exacerbating the need for basic services and mental health support. Project HOPE has been supporting community members throughout the region by distributing essential supplies like water and hygiene kits and operating ambulances, mobile medical units, and safe spaces for people to access medical and mental health care.  

Vovchansk, a city in the north of the region just six kilometers from the Ukraine-Russia border, was occupied by Russian troops for months on end in 2022. For those who lived through the occupation or returned home after Ukrainian forces liberated the area, there was hope that they could finally return to a sense of peace. In the last few months, however, Russian forces have again made significant advances in Kharkiv – through a ground invasion and near-constant aerial bombardment – forcing many to flee for their lives yet again. Below are stories from a few of the evacuated community members Project HOPE is supporting.  

Serhii, an evacuee from Vovchansk, was injured and lost his home in the shelling. He described the experience: Shelling continued all day and night. My house was completely destroyed and, during one of the attacks, my arm was injured. My wife and I had to walk through the forest to a place where we could be picked up and evacuated by the State Emergency Service. While we were leaving, they tried to hit us with a kamikaze drone, but fortunately it fell nearby, and we kept moving. When we evacuated, we couldn’t take anything with us. We literally have nothing. We don’t have a job now and everything is expensive for us, so the help we are receiving is extremely important.” 

Oleksii, is also a resident of Vovchansk who survived the occupation in 2022 and witnessed the liberation of his city only to experience it again. Oleksii sought shelter in his basement with his dog for over a week, but the fighting became so intense that he had to evacuate. He shared: “In 2022 we were not hurt, they passed through the city without a fight. This time it was different. It started very quickly and suddenly houses and schools were burning, all the roads were smashed to pieces, the hospital was destroyed, and my house was shattered; I have no windows or roof and my garage was burned down. We had to run. We thought we would get to the hospital and then plan what to do next, but when we got there, we saw a lot of dead bodies and we heard that the bridge had been blown up. We walked all night, but finally we got out.”  

Hanna, an evacuee from Vovche village, is now staying at a center for internally displaced people (IDPs). She shared: “On the first day of the most recent Russian offensive, I asked my grandson to evacuate, and I stayed in the village hoping it would end soon, but the fighting only intensified. We didn’t expect this. We were back to living a normal life, planting vegetable gardens, but on the evening of May 10, the battles began, and houses and forests were on fire. We helped to rescue people from the burning houses. I wanted to stay. I didn’t think it would come to this. I could not close my eyes until the morning, and then I called the police who came and took us to the nearest safe place. I am hoping to return to the home I no longer have.”  

Pavlo, a resident of Vovchansk, had to shelter in the basement for 10 days straight during the attacks before he was finally able to evacuate. Like most residents of the community, Pavlo has no property left. His house was destroyed and everything he had – including his documents and clothes – was left behind where active fighting continues. He described the experience: “Under strong shelling fire, I had to run as fast as I could through a meadow and over a bridge, falling to avoid being hit by debris. I finally reached the bomb shelter, and the police evacuated us from there. It was terrifying.”  

Project HOPE’s team is continuing to support communities throughout the region through mobile medical units and ambulances; essential supplies like hygiene kits, bottled water, and fuel cards; and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS). View photos of the recent distributions in the Kharkiv region here. Interviews are available upon request. 


Contact: Courtney Ridgway at cridgway@projecthope.org.

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