You might find it hard to imagine: a nine-year old girl whose alcoholic mother is not able to properly care for her, nor her infant brother. Their home is just a place to sleep. There are no Christmas lights blinking in their windows, no cookies baking in the oven, no Jingle bells playing on the radio. Instead, the floor is littered with trash, the uninsulated windows have let the cold inside the room, the smell is not of home-cooking, but of soiled diapers, unwashed dishes, blankets reeking of mildew and empty liquor bottles. Adding to this sad picture, is the sound of constant air sirens, the blaring alarm that penetrates sleep and shatters any kind of quiet. The sirens warn of imminent danger. The Russian enemy is close, the alarm screams. Go into hiding!
This was Yuliya’s* life every day. She is a nine-year old child in war-torn Ukraine and her life is one that none, especially not children, ought to have. With a father who has left them, a mother who cares mostly about her bottles, an infant brother who is always crying, a cold apartment without light, water or food, a war raging and missiles exploding like fireworks, Yulia felt not just incredibly alone, but scared, cold and hungry as well. Her world was dark.
But there was light. Yulia was found by our partners. They invited her in to the community center supported by Novi. Here was a welcoming place run by motivated and caring adults who fed her, listened to her and introduced her to other children. Yulia feels warm when she is at the community center. This is not just because the generator runs, warming the place. It is also because she feels safe and loved.
There are 7.5 million other children like Yulia in Ukraine today. Their circumstances may not be as severe as hers, but they are affected by the war nevertheless. The winter is cold. Leaving homes destroyed and without heat, light and water is an effective weapon, and the Russian Army uses it to the fullest. Thinking of all the children in hiding, on the run, scared and confused, cold and hungry is sobering.
But there is light. Thanks to all of you, we were able to help provide for 370 families in need this December. Because you supported Novi, we could buy generators, wood stoves and food that were delivered to Zaporizhzya, Kherson, the outskirts of Kyiv, and Donetsk by our amazing Ukrainian partners. As I am writing this and missiles are falling from the sky, they are still out there, finding people who need help.
You were light. Your support mattered to Yulia. It continues to matter to hundreds of children like her. Christmas is approaching, also in Ukraine. The darkest time of the year is darker this year than any Ukrainian child has ever experienced. But there is light. The light shines through our colleagues who tirelessly serve and give, love and care. Not only do they deliver food and other essentials, but they take time to bake Christmas cookies with the children. They play board games and make Christmas crafts. The importance of these acts cannot be overestimated. They will last forever, in the hearts of children who thought Christmas would just be another air raid.
Your light shines bright. It sustains us and our Ukrainian sisters and brothers. Yulia and many other children are in a better place today because of your gift. For that we, and they, are very thankful.
Appropriate words from the book of John: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
All of us at the Novi community send our warm regards and wishes for a wonderful Christmas. We are all in this together.
*Yulia is not this child's real name. I have changed it to protect her identity. None of the photos in this message are of her for the same reason.
Hanna is from Kharkiv. Last week, she went back to her war-torn home.
When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out, ‘Stop!’