A Ukrainian Mother’s Story of Resilience in Wartime

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In times of war, women and children are typically affected the most. The recent invasion of Ukraine has been no different, with many Ukrainian husbands and fathers fighting against Russia, and many wives, mothers, and children being displaced. Kateryna Golenska is one such woman. She grew up in a city called Chernihiv, located less than 100 miles from the country’s capital Kyiv, and a location that has seen some of the most devastating destruction since the invasion began. 

From a safe location, Golenska writes about her experience daily on her blog, A Ukrainian Woman’s Story. There, she documents everything from the conditions she lived in as her city was torn to pieces to rediscovering the simple things: nature, family, and the promise of a better tomorrow. CircleAround spoke to Golenska about her experiences during the invasion and how it has shifted her perspective on life, motherhood, and more. 

Daily Routines Completely Changed After Displacement 

Golenska remembers life before the war as being normal enough; she worked as an English language teacher from home. She had outside assistance that allowed her to teach, spend time with her children, and take time for herself. Still, she says she often felt disconnected in many ways. 

“Before the war, I often felt isolated from society and everything important happening outside of the home setting,” she tells CircleAround. That all changed once the invasion began. Golenska and her family endured 10 terrifying days of shelling before deciding to flee.

“The trip was very hard on the children and me because I felt I couldn’t meet their needs in the limited car space that was packed primarily with kids' belongings and food for us all,” she says. “With the war, I understood that the most important things happening are inside our family, and the concept of family itself expanded to the size of the country.” 

As a Mother, She Quickly Learned to be Resilient 

Golenska knew leaving home would come with unknown challenges. Her family lived in less desirable conditions, surviving on small amounts of food, water, and sleep.

“I would sleep for three to four hours, eat once a day, and learn as much as I could about how to survive in the city at war,” she explains. “I was constantly thinking of ways to make sure that my children were safe and could have access to food (cow milk for Leah, and formula for Leona), clothes, water, medication, and their favorite toys, even in the event of the building collapsing.”

Nothing was normal, but her resiliency only grew as a result. “I had to learn how to be matter-of-fact when my husband was setting off on a suicide mission in search of medication, milk and formula, diapers, food for our cat and us,” she adds. 

Golenska used her creativity to make safety practices into a game for her children, such as how to remain still and quiet as air strike sirens sounded over the radio. All of these experiences helped her quickly learn how to get by on very little, how little material possessions seemed to matter, and most of all, how important the strength of motherhood could be when tested to the maximum.

When in Crisis, Golenska Leaned on Her Community

With social isolation no longer an option, Golenska learned the importance of being part of a community. She witnessed firsthand how united and mobilized Ukrainians became in times of crisis, despite differences like language and political views. 

“I have met people for the first time in my life who welcomed us into their homes with arms wide open,” she tells CircleAround. As she navigates what may come next in life, she knows she can only succeed with help from others. “And most importantly, I discovered that if I have a chance to speak up for those who can’t do it for themselves, I should take this opportunity.”

She Became a Mother for All Who Needed Her

Golenska began her daily accounts of life in wartime shortly after the invasion began. At first, it was to keep friends, family, and others updated on her family’s safety and whereabouts. But it quickly became a resource for people processing the invasion in different ways.

“When I started my blog, I realized that people of the world can be united into one universal family with common values and ways to cooperate towards the goal,” she says. “Many people I spoke to were dealing with fear and grief in different ways.

“Being a mother isn’t necessarily a blood or age dependent concept,” she says. “I discovered how critical for them it was to be heard, and to hear words of reassurance and unconditional support.”

Taking One Day At A Time

In Golenska’s latest blog post, she writes that she and her family are safely in Western Ukraine. “There are many reasons why being alive and in a peaceful place makes me feel calm and optimistic about life. Living in a place such as where we are now is a dream come true to so many.”

She writes about being grateful for the small things she once took for granted: getting groceries, making soup for her family, taking walks amongst flowers, planning for upcoming holidays. Life is not necessarily back to normal, but she is hopeful. 

“I think that we as mothers should give ourselves grace to be able to live in the present moment,” she tells CircleAround. “We cannot change the world we live in, and from what is happening in the heart of Europe now we can see how relative everything is.” 

The Bottom Line 

Golenska knows a huge part of being a mother is reframing challenges into something positive. “We do not have to experience something like a war firsthand to reevaluate our life goals and values, and to begin living the life that our children and we dream of now,” she says. “Motherhood is a driving force for prosperity. Our impact on the future of communities cannot be underestimated. What we bring up in our children ultimately translates into the course of history that humanity takes.”

Photo Credit: Kateryna Golenska

Tags: Inspiration, Mother's Day, Motherhood

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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