Andre: A Story of a Ukrainian Refugee | Teen Ink

Andre: A Story of a Ukrainian Refugee

November 27, 2022
By Anonymous

Author's note:

Our refugee story was created to tell the story of a fictional Ukrainian boy and his family. This piece is something that all of us are very proud of. We feel that it has successfully shown another view of a completely different life. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to live every day without fear of losing their home or family. This story is strong and it is powerful, just like Andre and the people around him. This piece is something that is meaningful to all of us authors, and we hope it is for you, too.

Up until this point, today was going great. We were in our apartment, dad was at the supermarket getting some more milk, and mom was in her room, reading. I was playing with my sister, Natasha, even though I was almost 4 years older than her. Suddenly, something caught the corner of my eye. Something bright. Something unusual. I looked outside and saw a streak of yellow fly across the sky. 

“Look! A plane!” Natasha turned toward me and exclaimed, then turned back around and pointed. However, it did not look like a traditional plane, the ones we had gone on before, and was heading down, into the ground. Suddenly, we heard a boom from the way the streak was going. We ran to the window, and a cloud of billowing smoke was rising from a building maybe a few blocks away. 

“Mom! Mom! I think a missile just hit the building down the block, Mom!” I screamed, and she swung her door open and ran to me. Natasha just sat there, wide eyed, staring at the crater that had been left by the missile. No words, just pure shock.

“No! That's the market Papa is at!” My mother yelled and began sobbing frantically. We had heard about these types of sick attacks ordered by the evil President of Russia Vladimir Putin. Many stories were told about innocent and random citizens of Ukraine being blasted out of existence all for nothing. We had hoped that it would never happen to us, but it seemed too late for hope. Just as I and Natasha rushed over and around her, the front door opened, and Papa ran in!

“We have to leave. Now.” Papa exclaimed, in a controlled voice, and he ran into his and my mother's room and began packing their clothes in a hurry. I, my sister, my mother were frozen in shock. “What are you waiting for? Let's go! We are under attack. It is not safe anymore,” he said. I ran to my room, breaking the closet door in a hurry to open it. I unzipped it and stuffed everything I owned into its deep green pockets. I could not check but I hoped my sister was doing the same. As I was throwing everything in, I found an old necklace my grandparents had given to me. It had a little green gem in the middle. A jade, I was told by my grandmother. Very precious. Passed down from her dad and now to me. 

“Tash! Help me put this on!” I said loudly over the commotion of packing, and she ran over quickly. I turned around, she hooked it on and went to get her stuff. In unison, we ran downstairs, all of our belongings and food in tow as we raced down the stairs to the car. We threw everything in the trunk in a flash, and took off down the road, flying out, and sooner or later, we were gone. No time to say goodbye. No turning back.

We drove until day turned to night on the 1st. We slept in our car, on the side of the road. It was cold and uncomfortable and everyone wished we did not need to. Dad drove the rest of the 14-hour trip from Kyiv to Romania and slept in a run down hotel on the Ukraine side that night. Better than the previous night, I guess. The next morning, we began our short journey to the border.

“Why didn’t we go to Belarus, Mom?” I asked. I had heard of other Ukrainians going to Belarus. She turned in her seat to face me.

“Because it borders Russia. We were afraid that it would get invaded as well. At least Romania has water or lots of land between us and Russia.”

“Ok, Mom,” I responded. I looked at my sister, watching videos on her tablet as she had been for the last few hours. Not that I blamed her, though. We slowed to a standstill traffic a few minutes later. “Papa! Why aren’t we moving?” Natasha asked, finally looking up from her video. My father glanced up at her through the rearview mirror.

“Because we are crossing the border into Romania, honey. Once we get there we will find our next place to go.” He responded, and she nodded, looking back down at her tablet. As we rolled down the window, the attendant began speaking to us.

“Hello! Would you like to seek asylum in Romania?” He asked, in a polite tone and gentle voice.

“Yes please,” My father replied, “We would love to.” The attendant nodded and looked at his clipboard. 

“Ok, perfect. Now, please fill out these forms, and you will be good to move into the country.” The attendant said as he handed over a clipboard with a few sheets of paper to my dad. There was a bus off to the side. 

“Excuse me sir, but what is the bus for?” My father asked the attendant curiously. 

“It is for all men eligible to fight in the war against Russia. Our country needs as much help as it can get to fight off the Russians.” The attendant answered him in a blank tone, pointing at it while checking his watch. My father turned pale, and my mother turned to him and realized.

“But Josef. You can’t leave us! We need you!” My mother exclaimed. My father shook his head and went to open the door. But my dad’s mind was already made up. He knew what he had to do, and I did too.

“Anastasia. I must fight for my country. It is my duty. After we win, you come back home with my children, ok?” My father said, and he opened the door. My mother nodded her head, knowing there was nothing she could do to stop him. 

“Papa! No!” Tasha yelled as he left, and my father turned around and blew her a kiss as he walked over to the bus. She started crying, and before I knew it, I was crying. Mama was on the verge of tears, and she got out of the car. She handed the attendant the clipboard of paper, shook his hand, and drove into Romania, leaving my father behind. As he approached the line of other men to fight for Ukraine, he turned around one last time and shouted “I love you! Remember my love”

We were stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Romania. My mom was looking at a map, trying to figure out where we were and where to go. Tasha was sitting inside the bright yellow convenience store, charging her tablet and shopping for snacks. I was watching the gas pump, waiting to yank it out of the tank and pay. It had only been a day since Papa left, but it  had felt like years. 

“Andre, come here. I need your help.” My mom called to me, beckoning me over with one hand to help her navigate the map.

“Yes mom, just give me one second.” I responded. The pump clicked, and I put the pump back into the machine. I paid for the gas, which was expensive because of the war, then went to help my mother. The sun glared on the map, making it hard to see what it said. 

“Mother, I think we should try to find someplace to stay for the night.”

“We can try, but unfortunately we only have so much money my love.” She responded. “If we can’t find anywhere to stay then the car will have to do.”

“I understand mother, but Tasha especially needs a place to stay. She is a lot younger than I am and she cannot stay in this heat much longer. You also need a break. You've been on your feet for nearly 4 days, mama.” 

“I appreciate your concern Andre, but I’ll be okay. Really I will.” Mama tried to convince us. I knew she was lying for mine and Tasha’s sake, but I accepted it and we were off. 

After nearly two hours of driving we had finally arrived in a town with many hotels. Mama searched for the cheapest room going from hotel to hotel. Mama finally negotiated with the man at the front desk and got us a room for a couple of nights.

“This is good my son. This is good. We have a place to stay for a while while I look for a job.” Mama said, her voice broken. She put on a smile for me and Tasha. I felt terrible for her. I wanted to help out in any way that I could. 

“Mama, I want to get a job and help out.” I told her. “Tasha can come with me everyday.” I will bring in money. 

“Andre I- I-“ mama said as she began to break down crying. 

“Mama are you okay?” I asked

“I’m okay. I’m okay my love. I just see so much of your father in you, and that gives me hope.” Mama said, finally smiling for real this time. 

“We’re going to be okay mama.” I reassured her.

“Yea! We’re going to have a great time.” Tasha said cheerfully. Mama brought us all in tight and hugged us. We finally had hope.

The bell rang loud and proud throughout the shelter. The high-pitched gong rang through the speakers so old they had turned gray. I hoped they broke off anyways. It was early that morning, and breakfast was being served. I threw on whatever clothes I saw first, and walked all the way to breakfast, not because I was slow but because I was still bleary-eyed and waking up. I filled my plate with food from the buffet and sat down at a table with my sister and mom. 

“So, today we are going to go out into the city. I am going to look for a job, and you two can roam and explore. Sound good to you?” My mom asked as we sat down for breakfast. She had been trying to keep our spirits high even with our father’s leave fresh in our minds. My sister and I both nodded, and we continued eating until our plates were clean. We didn’t even get to say a proper goodbye, I thought. 

We went back to our room at the shelter we were staying at. It was opened by the UN to provide for Ukrainian women and children just like us. Although it was safe and much better than being back home, it did not feel that way. Mama often spent her days crying in her sleeping bag. The shelter we are living in right now used to be a fancy large ballroom, but now the ground is littered with sleeping bags and families’ entire personal belongings. Not the nicest thing ever, but I’m definitely not complaining, after sleeping in a car. 

As we left the shelter, my mother scanned the streets for signs of job openings. She found one in the window of an old, sketchy building, advertising for a receptionist at the supposed doctor's office. It was gray and the outside was made of some type of cement mixture. I did not trust it, but my mom was doing anything she could to help us get money and out of the shelter. 

“Hello?” My mother called the doorbell that the building had. The door clicked and creaked open. I followed my mother up the old wooden stairs into a brightly lit waiting room area. There was a bell on the desk, and my mother tapped it slightly as it rang. In the meanwhile, I inspected the room. It was lit with multiple lamps, and skylights above us letting lots of sunlight illuminate the room. There was a hallway next to the desk, and one of the few doors in that hallway opened and a man stepped out.

The man had jet-black hair, which he slicked back into a man bun. He was tall and muscular. He wore reading glasses and was holding a clipboard.

“Yes, ma’am? May I help you?” The man asked. His voice was very deep. 

“Yes, I saw an advertisement for a job opening. Is there a possibility I could take this job?” She asked. I could tell my mother was nervous. She was shaking. 

“Yes, please come right this way. If you would like, you can bring the children as well.” He said and motioned for us to follow him back to the door he came out of. My mother beckoned for us to follow, and my sister and I walked behind her into the room.

It was a modest room, bearing cabinets and shelves with medicine, a sink, and an examination table. My sister sat at the table, while my mother sat in a chair facing the doctor. 

“Hello, my name is Dr. Kovalenko. I run this clinic with my partner, Dr Melynik. So, some information about this job. You will work 7 days a week, 9 am to 5 pm. The pay is $20 per hour. We will provide you with a healthcare plan, and can help enroll your children in education around this area, and they can come here and do their homework after school.” He tapped his pen on his clipboard after he finished, looking expectantly at my mom as she thought over it.

“Perfect, I’ll take it.” She said, she stood up and shook Dr. Kovalenko’s hand.

“You start Monday. Be ready.” And he left the room. 

“Andre, don’t you think it was weird he didn’t ask for any type of resume or anything?” My mom said to me, in a quiet voice. I thought it was a bit weird, but maybe I was overthinking.

“Yeah, I guess a little bit.” I responded. My mom shrugged, and as we left the clinic, we waved goodbye to the doctor as he was writing something down on his clipboard. Down the stairs, we went, and the block walk home passed in a blur.

Tasha and I met other children and their families. Two twin brothers from  Odesa, an old lady and her daughter, and a mother with 2 daughters and one son. Tasha tried to approach a boy a few days ago.

“Hi. I’m Tasha. What’s your name?”

The boy, young, still had a sad look in his eyes.

“I’m Isai.”

“Cool! See him over there?” She pointed at me “That’s my brother, Andre!”

“Great,” he said sheepishly and then turned away. With all the tough times, there was a dark mood, and Tasha had nobody to entertain her.

While Tasha was busy trying to find someone to play with, I Mama was looking for a more permanent place to stay in Romania until the war was over and Papa could come home and out of the army. We still all miss our home in Ukraine, even if it is gone now.

“I miss home,” said Tasha, who had given up for the day, voicing our thoughts exactly. “And Papa. I wish Papa would come home. When will Papa come home Mama?”

“Soon, soon,” said Mama unconvincingly. We knew that as long as Putin kept trying to invade our homes, men like Papa would have to stay in the military to help fight for our country. At this rate, it would be many months before we could finally see Papa again. 

I didn’t say anything to Tasha, of course. We just all sat there, heads down until dinner was served. At least the volunteers running this thing were nice.

I was doing my math homework, and my sister was doing her history. All of a sudden, the doctor walked out of the room and asked my mother to talk to him in his office. I looked at her, and she looked back at me. A few minutes later, she ran out of his office and yanked me and my sister up.

“We have to go. That man is dangerous and we can’t stay here.” She said, out of breath. My mother almost flew the block back to the shelter, and once we finally settled down she finally explained.

“Andre, that man tried to traffic me. He was offering all of these things to me, as long as I listened to him and did what he wanted. He tried using my vulnerability over me, but I got out of there just in time.” My mom finished, and she broke down right there. Sobbing and exhausted. Tasha and I huddled around her, and together we cried. Missing dad. Missing Ukraine. Knowing that we had no idea what the future held for us here. 

Together, we made a decision. We had to try and go somewhere else. We looked at a map we got from the front desk. 

“What about Hungary?” I asked. I looked it up on my phone, but we had no good way of getting out of Iasi and into Hungary. But, I saw something about Warsaw, Poland.

“What about Poland? On this website, it shows we can get there pretty cheaply from here!” I said and showed my mom the phone. 

“Perfect! That works” My mom said. That night, we boarded a bus. Once we got off, we stayed the night on the street, waiting until the next morning to get the next bus.

The days recently had felt longer than ever and my sister and I were passed out on the shelter beds in Warsaw. They were especially soft, the volunteers wanting to make us as comfortable away from home as possible. Buses and trains, standing and sitting. At this point, it had felt like we’d been through hell and back just to get here. My mother had gotten up to go into the city to look for jobs. 

“Make sure you make a better choice this time, ok?” I said, and she gave me a kiss goodbye. I dozed back off to sleep and awoke a few hours later to my mother coming back into the room.

“Any luck?” I asked her, looking up. I immediately got my answer from the look of defeat on her face. “We just need to keep trying. Tomorrow, I will try and look for a job after school. Tomorrow” I said and gave my mom a hug. We stood there for what seemed to be forever, hugging away all of our problems. Not having a dad. Not having any money. Being stuck in a refugee shelter. God, I hated that label. I was losing hope and fast. However, at this very moment, someone knocked on our door. 

“Open!” My mom called, and the door creaked open. A man popped his head in. He had a scruffy beard and gray hair. He was obviously old, but hid a smile on his face.

“Are you people the Shevchenko family?” He asked. He had a sheet of paper in hand. 

“Yes, why?” My mother asked, starting to walk towards him.

“I have someone here for you.” He said and was replaced by another man. Dad! 

“Petro!” My mother yelled, and all of a sudden he was being tackled in hugs and greetings from the three of us. I looked down at his leg and noticed that his leg was now replaced by a temporary prosthetic leg.

“Papa? What happened to your leg?” I asked, and everyone stepped back. My father beckoned for us to sit down on the bed across from him, and he sat down as well.

“I was in the trenches while the Russians were attacking my post. Somehow a bullet landed in my leg. Thankfully, I lived to see my favorite people. Unfortunately, the doctors said that I could either keep the leg or keep my life.” He said.

“Wow Papa, that really must have hurt.” Tasha said, and Papa nodded and grimaced. After a few hours of us catching him up on our recent journeys and struggles, he brought us all in for one big, family hug. Even though nothing was over quite just yet, for the first time in a while I had hope, once again. I could feel it.

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