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"To be honest, when you have a variety of ways to leave the country, the only thing you truly want is to stay at home and live a normal life again."
Like many people across Ukraine, Viktoriia woke up to the sound of explosions on February 24.
The capital city of Kyiv, where she was born and now raises her children; Sofia, 15, and Sofia's seven-year-old brother, was under attack. Her home was no longer safe.
"It is difficult to prepare for war, especially in your mind," she says.
The mum 'understood the danger' of the situation, but didn't want to believe it, despite reports about the possibility of invasion.
Viktoriia had packed her children's rucksacks and collected some medicines and documents, but the family were reluctant to leave immediately and spent the first night of the war hiding from missiles in an underground car park.
Unfortunately, the danger of their proximity to Sikorsky Airport, a target for the invading Russians, soon became clear, and the family knew they had to plan to leave Kyiv for a while.
Still, Viktoriia remained optimistic they would 'definitely go back in a week or two'. This was where she worked; where her children went to school and where she had her home – she didn't want to be away from it for longer than necessary, and Sofia agreed.
The teenager told UNILAD: "War always brings only negative for everyone... It affects a person, especially on a psychological [level]. What about me? We had to leave our home because shelling of residential buildings began in Kyiv."
With their plan for a brief departure in place, the family travelled to a relative's home around 100km from Kyiv, with an 'independent water source and deep basement'. They thought it would be enough, but 'the invasion was too rapid' and their shelter soon became unsafe.
Still not wanting to leave the country entirely, Viktoriia and her children moved further west, where they are now staying with friends.
They are separated from their husband and father, who is in a different region. Viktoriia described being away from her home and partner as 'the most painful effect of the war' for the family.
"It is nothing compared with the people who lost everything, but..."
The United Nations estimates 3,866,224 refugees have fled Ukraine in the weeks since Russia's invasion, but despite the ongoing war, Viktoriia and Sofia continue to find security in their home country.
The mum is hopeful the war 'will not last for years', and while she is aware 'any hospitality has its limits' she chooses to remain in Ukraine because they feel 'relatively safe' for now. She has a job she may lose if she goes abroad; she wants her daughter to finish school and receive her certificate of basic secondary education.
Viktoriia acknowledged their situation could change in a heartbeat and stressed she wouldn't hesitate to move if there is a threat to her children, but for now Sofia shares her parents’ decision to stay in Ukraine.
"To be honest, when you have a big variety of ways to leave the country [the] only one you truly want is to stay at home and live a normal life again," the teen said.
Sofia recalled her initial feelings of the war as that of 'fear, panic and misunderstanding of the whole situation'.
"Nobody could really expect that there would be such a massive and brutal invasion to different parts of Ukraine. What I really remember is a loud sound of explosion at 4am, close to my house. As it turned out, it was the work of Ukrainian AAW.
"Of course, when I heard this sound, I could not sleep anymore because you think about if the next missile will fall on your house," she said.
As the family wait and hope for the war to come to an end, they are relying on routines to try and normalise their lives. Viktoriia tries to cook their regular meals and has expressed belief in the importance of schools organising long-distance learning for children.
She said the efforts are especially worth it for her son, who misses 'his dad, his home, his friends so much'.
Both Viktoriia and Sofia are looking ahead to a peaceful future, with the mum hopeful the family will be able to 'return home in a month or two' - despite knowing it will be a 'hard time for everybody and everything'.
She considered sending Sofia to high school in another country, describing her as a 'smart girl with good ambitions'. Sofia just wants to see her relatives and friends again, and to 'live under the peaceful sky, continue to study and finally graduate'.
" We're safe. We are with our acquaintances, but every day my only one true desire is to come back to home.As soon as possible."
If you would like to donate to the Red Cross Emergency Appeal, which will help provide food, medicines and basic medical supplies, shelter and water to those in Ukraine, click here for more information
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