After surviving World War II, Maria Nikolaevna led a busy and fulfilling life, working as an engineer and raising two children in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
Her world today hardly exists outside the dim walls of a communal basement to which she was forced to flee when bombs destroyed her apartment.
For the past four months, 92-year-old Maria has lived underground with her daughter, son-in-law and the family’s cats.
Her only glimpses of natural light come from sitting in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the street outside.
With their homes left uninhabitable due to the war, the family lives in limbo.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, repelled a Russian attack in the first two months of the invasion, but has been bombarded almost daily recently after a period of relative calm.
Maria has been experiencing movement problems, increasing memory loss, and confusion that have worsened since the attack on her home.
“She forgot what the city looked like, she is confused and does not know where to go, what to do, how to lie down, how to sleep, how to hide,” says her daughter, Natalia.
Natalia’s house was in one of the most heavily bombed areas of Kharkiv. She thought her mother would be safer staying in her suburb eight miles away, with neighbors bringing food and checking her.
But one night the call came that there was an explosion next to Maria’s apartment and the electricity went out.
Natalia Fedor’s husband found a taxi driver willing to cross the besieged city to recover Maria and the few possessions they could seize.
“The taxi driver carried her downstairs and rushed across town to get her to safety,” Natalia says.
War is not new to Maria. As a girl, her family was forced to shelter a German officer during the occupation of Ukraine in World War II. Vasily, the man who will marry her, fought in that war.
Maria and her husband came from the same village in the Poltava region, but after the war they met in nearby Kharkiv, where they entered a night school, shared an office and fell in love.
Then she worked as an engineer in a state-owned factory making aircraft parts. The couple got married, had a son and a daughter, bought an apartment with a garden.
Natalia recalls: “They left difficult times behind”
Today, as her memory fades, Maria takes her time reading binaural magazines and rearranging her husband’s medals, among the few things Fedor saved while fleeing her home.
A physical reminder of her family’s place in history, they include a Patriotic War Medal for Vasily’s participation in Soviet operations against the Germans, and a medal for combat against Japan at the end of the war.
Downstairs, Maria sleeps on a mattress placed on wooden pallets in a makeshift bedroom that features three cheap fleece blankets.
Wearing a fleece jacket and a thick collar against the cold, she lives for WhatsApp calls from her 31-year-old granddaughter Masha, who lives in New York.
Regarding the future, the family has no answers, only questions, says 62-year-old Fedor.
“When will this war end? And on whom does it depend? On the politicians? On us? On the army? Because it is unacceptable in our time, it is brutal.
“My mother-in-law and other seniors of 95 or 97 should end their lives in such circumstances. The sooner it ends, the better.”
#War #returns #haunt #Ukrainian #survivor #WWII