MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky
Even though I was born here in Nikopol, Ukraine, my parents moved east to Avdiivka when I was very young, so it never felt like my home — not until I came back, anyway.
We would spend every summer here with my grandparents. Nikopol has a big water reservoir and beach where I would go swimming with my cousins every free second that my grandmother would let me after I finished my chores.
I’ve moved around, even before the wars forced me to move. I went to Omsk, Siberia, for university and studied to become a fashion designer. That’s where I met my first husband too.
We married and I had my first son while in school. I wrote my term papers with my two-month-old sitting on my lap. Then we moved back to Avdiivka after graduating.
Several years later, my husband and I divorced and then I met a man from Syria and moved there to live with him. We had another son — 12 years apart, just like my sister and me — and I lived there for 14 years, working as a talent agent for a nice hotel.
Then in 2011, I had to move because of war for the first time. The civil war in Syria made living there very dangerous, so my sons and I moved back to Avdiivka while my husband stayed in Syria.
We moved on August 29. My younger son had to start school in just three days, and we had to buy all new school supplies.
I became very depressed being back in Avdiivka. I had built my whole life in Syria and now I had to uproot it all to come back here.
I was very lucky to have a good friend who encouraged me during that time and helped me become present in my life again and get myself back.
Then, just as I was feeling on track, the war in Ukraine began in 2014. We had to move again, this time to Nikopol, where my sister still lived.
My family had been displaced by two different wars in two different countries just a few years apart. My husband is still living in Syria and we don’t know when we’ll get to see each other again.
My family had been displaced by two different wars in two different countries just a few years apart. My husband is still living in Syria and we don’t know when we’ll get to see each other again."
But coming to Nikopol is where I learned about New Life Charitable Fund (an MCC partner supporting vulnerable and displaced people).
The first time I went to New Life, they gave us a blanket, sheets, towels, soap and a food package. After that, I’d get a monthly package of household supplies — and a package with food and canned meat. The canned meat was always a favourite at my house.
Now I work for New Life in programs and organizing events and serve as chair of an initiative group that helps guide the organization to better serve displaced people. I volunteer for them often as well.
I’m so proud when I get to tell people about the work that New Life does in Nikopol. We distribute canned meat, comforters and hygiene kits from MCC to displaced families. We run a social enterprise where women learn to sew and sell what they’ve made to support themselves, and we run all kinds of sports, classes and different activities for children.
I’m so proud when I get to tell people about the work that New Life does in Nikopol. We distribute canned meat, comforters and hygiene kits from MCC to displaced families."
I’ve received a lot of help from New Life and it’s just my nature to want to give back more than I’ve taken.
I’ve also grown and learned so much. We’ve had peacebuilding training with people from MCC and heard from Christians and Muslims, other displaced people, veterans — all kinds of perspectives.
All of it has given me hope I never thought I would have again.
Yulia Barsa works and volunteers for New Life Charitable Fund, an MCC partner organization in Nikopol, Ukraine, that reaches out to displaced and vulnerable people.