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Displaced Ukrainian mum in Inverness hopes for peace in 2024 but remains pessimistic

By Val Sweeney

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Yulia Kushch. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Yulia Kushch. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Yulia Kushch says her life – like the lives of all Ukrainians – is divided into the past before the war and the new present.

The psychologist and psychotherapist (42) is currently living in Inverness with her three sons, 11-year-old twins and a four-year-old.

She could no longer stand the fear and horror in their eyes amid the sounds of explosions and rockets following the Russian invasion in February 2022 and decided to take them out of Ukraine.

It is now almost two years since she saw her husband and the boys saw their father, previously a logistics manager who is now a soldier defending their homeland.

"It is catastrophic," she reflected. "It has destroyed all our lives."

She recalled life before the conflict when they were together in their home with its wonderful garden.

"With the birth of each child, we planted a new tree in the garden," she said.

"Flowers were always blooming there, the children were playing on the swings and my husband and I were cooking food over the fire.

"I really miss those times but you can’t get them back."

Luka, Harry, Yulia and Mark Kushch. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Luka, Harry, Yulia and Mark Kushch. Picture: James Mackenzie.

During the week, Yulia worked at the regional children's clinical hospital in the city of Dnipro and also ran a private practice.

"Our children went to school and practised water skiing on the Dnieper River," she said.

"They trained in the Ukrainian national team and had wonderful results in competitions.

"Their future could have been connected with this sport but the war stopped everything."

She and the boys left Ukraine two weeks after the start of the invasion.

"It was two weeks of horror and fear," she recalled.

"We lived in the basement of our house and also cleared out a nearby abandoned bomb shelter.

"Sirens howled, military planes and helicopters flew, rockets flew and explosions were heard. I will never forget these sounds of exploding rockets."

Yulia and her family in Ukraine in happy times.
Yulia and her family in Ukraine in happy times.

Having decided to leave the country with her sons, they undertook a difficult journey in a convoy of cars emblazoned with the words 'Children' to protect themselves from shelling.

During the seven-day journey through Ukraine, they spent the nights in churches and refugee camps.

Having initially gone to Bratislava, they came to Scotland and were welcomed into the home of a kind lady sponsor in Inverness.

"Here we felt calm, kindness, care and support from all the kind people who met along our way," she said.

"This is incredible – and very important for us.

"Thank you to every Scot and Scotland for being so caring about the grief of others.

"We were given the opportunity to live, study and work.

"The children are happy that they have a new school, friends and are learning English. I also take language courses."

She continues to work in her profession online with Ukrainian women who are in Ukraine and other countries of the world.

The hub in Strothers Lane provides vital space for Ukrainian women and children to be together. Picture: James Mackenzie.
The hub in Strothers Lane provides vital space for Ukrainian women and children to be together. Picture: James Mackenzie.

After meeting Helen MacRae, of the charity Highlands for Ukraine, she visited the newly-opened hub for displaced Ukrainians located in Strothers Lane where the women can get together.

"This is a space that is incredibly important to us," she said.

"This is a space that unites us and gives us the opportunity to talk about feelings.

"For each of us, this is a difficult path and every refugee woman has her own painful story.

"Here we can feel, cry, support each other. We can talk about our spiritual disaster and heal from pain. I am very grateful that we have such a place.

As the start of 2024 looms, she concedes she is pessimistic but tries to remain hopeful about what the coming year will bring.

"We all have one most important desire," she said.

"It is for the war to be over so that Ukraine wins and peace comes, bringing an end to the death and destruction – and that Ukraine will be reborn from the ashes, like a phoenix bird."

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