Disturbing images from war-torn Ukraine show just how fragile our home life can be. For anyone.

In war, our home can be lost to us in an instant.

War reduces people to the basics for survival.

Forced to flee, people are able to take what is absolutely essential for survival. What they wear and what they can carry.

That is: clothing, toiletries, nappies, baby food, identity documents, money, bank details, medication, mobile phone.

These are life-changing decisions made in a state of fear, panic and heightened anxiety. 

schnauzer dog in hall

Perhaps the real dilemma is not what you take – but what you leave behind.

Elderly parents… pets… friends…partner… neighbours… teenage sons? 

If you stay your life will be in danger.

If you leave you may never see your family again.  

Elderly people may be too frail to travel and may require specialist nursing care, be disabled or suffering from dementia.

But, as more and more people are forced to leave, if they stay they may not get the right level of care and support food or medication.

When you leave behind your business, your home, your family, your friends and pets you have no idea what will happen to them.

Or what to do next.

two donkeys in field

Ukraine is a rapidly disintegrating social environment.

On the news we see horrific stories and images of people fleeing their homes.

Millions of people are on the move.

These are desperate people making harrowing journeys away from their homes and everything they know- just to be safe.

On the news we see images of families living in underground bunkers, huddled together on trains and then arriving in foreign countries with only what they can carry. Children: scared and exhausted. Mothers: anxious and stunned. 

And yet, determined  not to abandon their loved ones, we see people physically carry their elderly parents, much-loved pets and the children of those who cannot leave.

Now, they own only what they can carry.

All their possessions reduced to a few bags.

ginger cat sleeping on window cill

Refugees are totally dependent on the generosity of others and humanitarian aide.

When they reach the safety of neighbouring countries they get a change of clothes, be able to shower, have somewhere to sleep, obtain medical help and proper food.

Relying on friends, extended families and the governments of other countries they will live in temporary quarters, in make-shift accommodation.

If you have to leave your home and country where do you go?

North, south, east, west? .

Displaced people – especially women and children – are  vulnerable. They are now totally dependent on the goodwill of others and yet careful, cautious and wary.

They are just people who want to be ‘at home’ – in their own home. Going to school and work… socialising.. shopping… watching TV…gardening. Living an everyday life. 

But war put a stop to all that. Each person’s  story is unique.

art collection in home of elderly woman

War changes everything.  

History tell us that war shifts, annihilates and scatters populations. It spreads and devastates languages, religions and cultures and displaces people from their homes, their country and way of life. 

To date a staggering 4 million people have left Ukraine as refugees from war.

In addition, up to 10 million people have had to move to ‘safer’ parts of Ukraine.

As refugees they are not alone.

They are part of the more recent exodus of people fleeing wars in Afghanistan and Syria or – in the case of the Rohingya people, uprooted and exiled from their homes. 

It is not just war that causes people to flee from their homes.

Fires, floods, drought, famine, landslides, volcanoes, tsunamis,  avalanches can  occur with little or no warning.

In a natural disaster you have to get out quick. There may be no time to think, or plan or discuss what to do.

Lives will be lost, infrastructures will be destroyed, livelihoods wiped out, land rendered unusable. People have to start again to re-build their lives, community and country.

But with a natural disaster people would expect to be supported by their own government to be re-housed as they start to re-build their lives.

young person hugging a black dog

Refugees from Ukraine do not know if this is a temporary situation – or something permanent.  

Will they ever be able to go back?

Is there be anything left to go back to?

Will their families ever be able to join them? 

In the chaos of war there are heart-warming stories of ordinary people around the world welcoming refugees to share their home – a very different environment from a refugee centre, or room in a hotel.

But at some point they will have to move into a home of their own.

 This is one person’s story. it is a story of resilience, fortitude and adjustment to a new life in a strange place in a time of war.

Safe at last, will this strange land ever, truly feel like home?

All photos taken from Anyone At Home

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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