Women of Ukraine featured in documentary: “Ninety-nine percent of women with one child had to leave Ukraine”

They longed to return home and reunite with their husbands, facing the profound hardship of living without them and uncertain of when they could return due to the war.

  • 2 months ago
  • February 24, 2024
6 min read
Lora Arkhypenko, director of the documentary Women. | Photo courtesy of Lora Arkhypenko Lora Arkhypenko, director of the documentary Women. | Photo courtesy of Lora Arkhypenko
journalist’s notes
interview subject
Lora Arkhypenko, originally from Odesa, studied film-making in Kyiv during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She now resides in Welshpool with her husband and five-year-old daughter. Enrolled at Newtown College, she completed a Level 4 Diploma while working on her documentary film Women, which explores the emotional struggles of Ukrainian women forced to flee with their children, leaving their partners behind in the war-affected country.
background information
In February 2022, Russia’s missile attacks on Ukraine plunged the nation into an unprovoked war, resulting in over 6,500 civilian casualties and prompting thousands to seek refuge abroad. In the midst of conflict, Ukrainian authorities prevented men from leaving the country, compelling women to flee with their children within a three-day window after hostilities began. As a result, thousands of women and children fled Ukraine, dispersing across the globe, with many longing to return home and reunite with their relatives.

KYIV, Ukraine — My heart pounded with excitement as numerous dignitaries from the United Kingdom and Ukraine attended the premiere of my documentary film Women last month. The theatre overflowed with students, bureaucrats, politicians, and ministers anxious to understand the experience of Ukrainian women.

It’s been almost two years since we, the women of Ukraine, left our homes and forged new lives apart from our homeland and loved ones. As I filmed and spoke with these women, tears welled up in my eyes. Working on a topic that mirrors my experiences as a Ukrainian woman has been incredibly challenging.

I aim to showcase my work worldwide and to win an Oscar for my thought-provoking films. Winning would validate that I’m addressing crucial issues often overlooked. As an artist, I yearn to revolutionize the world through my work.

Explore more stories on the Russia-Ukraine War at Orato World Media.

Fleeing my homeland without my husband: “Remaining beyond February 25 could cost us our lives”

I never imagined leaving my homeland of Ukraine, especially not as an adult. Countless students move around for education or work. However, I remained in Odesa during my student years. My first venture away took me to Kyiv five months before the war to pursue a filmmaking course. I planned to establish connections there and then return to Odesa, as we have many talented individuals and major production houses. I never meant for it to be a permanent relocation.

Unfortunately, the war disrupted my plans. Kyiv endured the brunt of Russian missile attacks, creating uncertainty and danger. Despite the risks, I found myself alone in Kyiv with my daughter, as my husband was working on a project in Africa. I lacked the means to leave Kyiv, having no car, money, or resources. One college friend offered us shelter for a night. With no other options, we stayed with them in a bomb shelter because being in the house was unsafe.

Once we realized the danger, my daughter and I left with my friend for Moldova, in the western part of Ukraine. We resided there for five months. During the war, safety concerns led to the separation of women and children from their husbands in Ukraine. They advised us to leave within two days of the war’s outbreak. Remaining beyond February 25 could cost us our lives.

At first, I grappled with the challenges of adjusting to life in a new city without my husband, particularly with a young child. Luckily, we then relocated to Romania where I lived for several months before my husband joined us. Reuniting with him after almost a year felt like a blessing, and I thanked God that he had not been in Ukraine when the war began.

My curiosity about other Ukrainian women’s stories grew,  I often pondered, what do people in similar circumstances feel?

My daughter felt the absence of her father while we were apart. At three years old when the war began, by the time they reunited, she turned four. Every day she asked, “Will dad be coming back?” A bright child, she became my motivation during our struggles. Despite the difficulty of being alone with my daughter, I feel grateful now.

Ninety-nine percent of women with one child had to leave Ukraine without their husbands to other parts of the world. Women with more than two children were permitted to depart with their families, but others had to abandon their husbands to face the war alone. When I think about that, my heart sinks. Not too long ago, I found myself in a similar situation.

My curiosity about other Ukranian women’s stories grew. I desired to comprehend how other women dealt with comparable circumstances, how they orchestrated their departures, and where their families and husbands were. Leaving loved ones in a war zone, aware that you have the opportunity to depart and survive, feels emotionally draining.

After leaving Romania, we were fortunate to be offered refuge by a family in Chirbury. All these experiences served as inspiration for my documentary. The thought of our move from Ukraine to the UK consumed me. My life underwent a complete transformation, and everything seemed insignificant as my world, along with that of other Ukrainians, crumbled unexpectedly. I often pondered, “What do people in similar circumstances feel? What do they do? What if my family had nowhere to go or if no one in the UK welcomed us to their home?” The only way to find out was to keep myself busy with something I enjoyed.

Bringing a documentary to life: “This film portrays Ukrainian women – real emotions and power”

After five months, we relocated to Welshpool for the convenience of dropping off and picking my daughter up from school. During that same year, I enrolled at Newtown College to continue my pursuit of a degree in media and the creative industries. The education system in the UK differed from that of Ukraine, requiring me to prepare three projects for three terms. Unable to focus on any other topic, I drew inspiration from my war experiences over those five months, leading to the creation of my film Women.

I discussed my idea about Ukrainian women with my tutor, knowing it was a significant topic to cover in just five minutes. However, I was determined to showcase Ukranian women’s strength. Once my tutor approved the topic, I began my search for women to interview and feature in my film. I used two cameras and lights for filming. My college provided the necessary technical support. Surprisingly, I interviewed around 30 women and featured four in the final film. This film portrays Ukrainian women with real emotions and power.

Poster for the documentary Women, highlighting the resilience of Ukrainian women. | Photo courtesy of Lora Arkhypenko

During interviews with women taking shelter in the UK, I heard unbelievable stories highlighting strength, making my challenges seem small. They longed to return home and reunite with their husbands, facing the profound hardship of living without them and uncertain of when they could return due to the war. I empathized and questioned why innocent women and children must bear the brunt of wars.

Currently, I’m working on several photo exhibition projects. My first project, Women in their Natural State gained popularity worldwide. Right now, I’m focusing on a photo series depicting homes in Ukraine after the war—a tribute to our lives in those now-destroyed houses. I hope to capture the essence of mine and other Ukrainian homes in this series.

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