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08.17.2023

Day in the Life: Natalia, Ukraine

Come alongside one of Project HOPE’s program officers in Kherson, Ukraine to see what it’s like living inside one of the most severe humanitarian crises on earth.

By Artem Murach

Natalia, 61, was born in Berehove village, in the Kherson region of Ukraine. She has two children and works as a Liaison Officer in Project HOPE’s Kherson office.

Natalia left Ukraine in 1982. For the last 20 years she lived in Naples, working as a representative for Italian clothing companies in Europe. On February 24, 2022, she arrived at a clothing exhibition in Kyiv when the Russian invasion began.

“I thought I would be dealing with flowers when I was 60,” she says. “The war turned my whole life upside down. While everyone was fleeing the country, I was going to Kherson alongside the tanks. I just knew I had to be here.”

During the occupation, Natalia coordinated humanitarian aid and was looking for organizations to cooperate with. That’s how she got involved with Project HOPE, meeting the team after Kherson was partly de-occupied.

“I couldn’t just sit back,” she says. “The main thing for me is that my children live in a free country, even if we take on more responsibility and danger now.”

woman in protective gear speaking to man in protective gear
Natalia helps run Project HOPE’s relief efforts in Kherson, which has been partially occupied since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022. “I thought I would be dealing with flowers when I was 60,” she says. “The war turned my whole life upside down. While everyone was fleeing the country, I was going to Kherson alongside the tanks. I just knew I had to be here.” Photo by Nikita Hlazyrin for Project HOPE, 2023.

Kherson is subjected to bloody attacks with missiles, drones and shells every day, as Russians are just across the river. Many hospitals, residential buildings, and social facilities have been practically destroyed.

“We are used to the constant noise and shelling,” Natalia says. “We thank God that it’s not in our house. But I am not afraid. We don’t run to the basement. It’s a kind of adrenaline rush for us — I love helping others.

“Here is what my typical day looks like.”

9 a.m. I go to Chornobaivka, where Project HOPE delivered humanitarian assistance, and bring photo banners for distribution. Afterwards, we meet our Odesa team here.

10 a.m. I have a meeting with the Kherson Regional administration, where we discuss plans for the next six months, the water needs, and how to best coordinate efforts.

12 p.m. I return to the office, coordinate with the team, and have a call with management. I prepare documents and communicate with the heads of the primary health centers.

3 p.m. I take part in a humanitarian headquarters meeting, where we discuss what needs and requests there are, and how we can respond to them.

After the victory, Natalia is going to stay in Kherson.

“I am a fighter,” she says. “As long as I have the strength, I will serve and help my community. And in the summer I want to go to the beach with my grandchildren and enjoy the sea and the flowers.”

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