Alyona Lazareva

The suitcases of abandonment

My name is Alyona Lazareva, I am 33 years old and a refugee from Ukraine. I’ve been living in Bucharest for almost a year, together with my seven-year-old son.

We had a great life: a strong family, an apartment, a car, a job, a country house where our whole family would get together and enjoy a weekend! We had close friends, the best city, plans and travels… That is until February 24, 2022, when at 5 a.m. the “liberators” from Russia came for us!

I felt this war coming a month before it happened. Dreams kept on troubling me. I told all my family and friends that we had to pack our things, there will be war! Nobody believed it. I had an instinct telling me to leave the city.

Two backpacks, papers, and a full tank of gas. This had been the rule for 2 weeks.

On February 18, we celebrated Valentine’s Day. I remember who was wearing what and what we were talking about. It was incredible: we danced, we hugged, we joked… But in the morning my husband told me “I have a feeling that things will not be the way they were before!”. I said, “Maybe we should get out of town and wait?” “No, I think it’s too soon to leave,” he replied.

On February 23 I went for a walk down the street with our son, it was a sunny day. He rode his scooter, I took him to see his dad at work. That night we had our friends over, we played board games. Before going to bed, as I usually did, I read Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince to our child.

And on February 24, at 5 a.m., the missile blasts woke us up. “It has begun,” my husband said. In 15 minutes we packed our bags, carried the sleepy little guy in our arms, grabbed a few things, jumped into the car and drove to the Chernivtsi region. It hit me right there and then that my husband wouldn’t stay with us much longer.

We drove 26 hours to Chernivtsi, saw missiles, tanks, sadness, pain, fear, queues at petrol stations! In Chernivtsi friends of ours invited us to spend a few days in their house. We made sandwiches at the border because we had to help each other, the men carried the food and fed people.

Two days later, our friends’ house was filled with other friends travelling from all the dangerous regions of Ukraine. Everyone needed help. I decided to go abroad with my child, the nearest country was Romania. Two backpacks, papers, and anonymity! Who am I? Where should I go?

My husband and I haven’t been apart for nine years. I’ve always felt protected, I was always behind a stone wall… and now I’m all alone going nowhere, with a child in tow! On February 28 we arrived in Bucharest, people here helped us rent an apartment for a week.

I was crying all the time and didn’t feel like stepping outside. Back then, my parents were in Chernihiv under occupation, my younger sister was there, and my husband joined the armed forces to defend the Motherland. Every time we talked on the phone could have been our last time. That’s how a week went by… We were three families: three women and four children!

Within a week, we found an apartment and moved in. The owner of the apartment allowed all of us to live there rent free, he even brought us some things, some money! I will be grateful for his help all of my life. He asked us, “What else do you need?” And I needed a job, because I realized I had come here to save my child and tears of grief would do little to help me. Child, work, helping the family in my Ukraine! I had to be strong!

They helped me find a job and a week later I was employed. For four months I worked almost non-stop as an event manager for a catering company. The management believed in me. I am incredibly grateful. I had experience in this area and spoke English.

The child started going to school and spent the nights at home with the other boys because their mothers had to work. In May, I took the family car from Ukraine and learned to drive it in a week. Because it had to be done. I needed to work more and raise the child. The school was out for the summer, and I couldn’t just leave him.

I quit my job… I convinced my best friend to move with her children to Bucharest from Poland. She came up with a story for the kids: while our dads are defending Ukraine there, and we are staying here! We are a team! Since July, we’ve been living in houses next door from each other, we support one another a lot.

Also, at the end of July we met the “Snagov Olimpic” team, and we have been working together on integration projects for Ukrainians for more than half a year. I feel reborn, I really appreciate having the opportunity to help not only myself but other women as well. My work is my second family.

My son takes boxing and chess classes, we learn foreign languages without forgetting our mother tongue. My husband is still in the army. We are very sad and want to go home, despite the fact that everything is fine here and people are very whole-hearted. I’m trying my best to learn new things, so I can go back home with new projects and help people with psychological recovery. I am grateful to Romania for believing in me and my people. We are friends till the end of my days!


Poem sent by Alyona in Ukrainian and English:

Сьгодні майже рік , як життя розділилося на «до» і «після»….

«Настане день , закінчиться війна» , у голові ця пісня …

Ми всі змінилися , вже вибились із сил у вістря …

Хто в Україні , а хто і закордоном , в столицях , передмістях  …

Тягуча біль і спогади приходять у ві сні ,

Неначе всі разом , все добре : родина , друзі , дім  !

В нас вирвали вже рік життя … Не знаємо коли цьому кінець настане !

І іноді вже Віра у майбутнє  утікає , а ти її наздоганяєш і саджаєш на ціпок !

«Не можна так ! Куди ти утікаєш? У нас є ЗСУ і люди , які мріють про життя !!!!

Під мирним небом і у повних сім’ях …

Не зраджуй нас , і не ховайся в небуття !»…

Ти ж Віра , без тебе нам не подолати пекло це русняве !

Ти залишаєшся назавжди з нами ? Пообіцяй !»

– « Я обіцяю , вибач , що втікала ! Твоі слова мені так душу рвуть ! Я буду назавжди вже поряд з вами, бо ви – це найміцніший, нескорений люд !»

До річниці війни ! З Вірою у сердці! Слава Україні !


Today is almost a year since life was divided into “before” and “after”…

“The day will come, the war will end”, this song is in my head…

We all have changed, we have already lost our strength to the point…

Who is in Ukraine, and who is abroad, in capitals, suburbs…

Suffering pain and memories come in a dream,

As if everyone is together, everything is fine: family, friends, home!

We have already had a year of life stolen from us… We don’t know when it ends!

And sometimes Faith in the future runs away, and you catch up it and put it on a peg!

“You can’t do that!  Where are you running away? We have the Armed Forces and people who dream about life!!!!

Under a peaceful sky and in complete families…

Do not betray us, and do not hide in nothingness!”…

You are the Faith, without you we cannot overcome this Russian hell!

Are you staying with us forever?  Promise!”

– “I promise, I’m sorry for running away!”  Your words are so heartbreaking to me!  I will be with you forever, because you are the strongest, indomitable people!”

To the anniversary of the war!  With faith in the heart!  Glory to Ukraine!


Last Day of Peace, First Night of War is an interactive digital installation, part of the Museum of Abandonment, a digital wall of images showing the last days of peace collected from mobile phones.

Story collected by Bogdan Dincă for the Suitcases of Abandonment campaign. Project funded by CARE through SERA Romania, Care France and FONPC.