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Updated: Jul 25, 2023

People sometimes say: "We have already experienced 100% of our bad days, so this is at least a reason to move on." Mariupol is our most painful trauma. Today we are going to tell you about its former resident Natalia Yukhmanova.

Natalia was born in the village of Zhuravychi, Volyn Oblast, but has lived in Mariupol all her adult life, having moved there with her parents when she was one year old. Natalia is an economist by profession: she worked in leasing at one of the departments of the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works. Today, she is 39, but her permanent residence in such a close city is now just a blurred memory.

On 24 February, the whole of Ukraine woke up, but Mariupol, where Natalia and her family - her husband and two children - were the first to take the brunt of the attack. On the very first day, they packed their anxious suitcases and tried to wait out the explosions in the corridor, as there were no shelters in their neighbourhood. The reality was quite split. On the one hand, they had to hide the children from the explosions more often, and on the other hand, they had to complete their monthly reports. Natalia recalls that on 28 February, she was working at her job when she heard nearby explosions.

That was when the situation in their neighbourhood became critically dangerous. It was necessary to be proactive, so when Natalia returned from work, she and her family took the suitcases they had packed since 24 February and headed for the city dormitory in the city centre. This decision was forced - at least the dormitory had a basement, water and electricity. However, on 2 March, nothing happened. The desired water, electricity and gas disappeared, so there was no possibility to cook food or recharge phones. Unfortunately, the need to charge phones also disappeared - on the same day, mobile phone service was cut off. As a result, no one could know what was happening in the neighbourhood and whether their relatives and friends were okay.

Staying in the dormitory was also dangerous. Despite being quite scared, the family planned to try to leave the city on 16 March. However, the day before that date, life was divided into "before" and "after".

On 15 March, around 16:30, Natalia left the children in the basement and, with the help of her family, took her belongings from the 5th floor of the dormitory, where her mother's office was located. It was necessary to take them out, because the next day was to be the call sign of the evacuation, so they had to quickly take things out between arrivals. However, when they had just reached the 2nd floor, the building with all its visitors felt the force of an enemy explosion.

Luckily, Natalia's children were in the basement at the time, but they knew their parents were in the dormitory. For two days, they thought they were gone. However, on the same day, Natalia's husband, who was wounded, took her and her mother to hospital. When they returned to their children in a broken-down car two days later, they could not hold back their tears. Then the terrifying journey to Zaporizhzhia began, although Natalia admits that she doesn't remember much - she was constantly unconscious.

Her return to reality is still ongoing. In September, Natalia Yukhmanova was referred to Oleksandr Turkevych, CSO of the Neopalymi project. The project helps the military and civilians in the treatment of burns and scars sustained during the Russian-Ukrainian war. Natalia's body was pierced by numerous pieces of shrapnel, and her treatment is still ongoing, and it is far from over. The main goal of this process is to return Natalia to a normal life when she can finally admire herself in the mirror. Rehabilitation, laser skin resurfacing, and restoration of appearance are the main part of today's work. But it is absolutely worthwhile for the sake of people's future.

It is impossible to change the past, but it is quite possible to heal its injuries in order to move on. Natalia's dreams have definitely changed over the past year. And now her most cherished dream is to take her youngest son to school in September 2023, to the first grade. Natalia dreams of the day when her son will be proud of his beautiful mum. We believe that the smile on Natalia's face will shine like never before. And the Neopalymi project will do everything possible to make such dreams come true and become part of our reality.

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"Olya, it's me! I'm alive. I'm in Chechnya." Squeeze the phone in your palms, never let go, and wait for the call. And when it does ring, feel first horror and then immense, all-encompassing happiness


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