Skip to content

Mariia: Ukrainian parolee two years after the invasion

Mariia Verkovska was a medical student in Kharkiv when Russia invaded Ukraine. At 4:45 a.m., she was awakened by what she first thought were fireworks, but soon realized her mistake.

“I understand this is something else. I smelled the smell from the bomb. But nobody thought this could happen.” Mariia woke her housemates. “I tried to call my family because you don’t know when you need to run. You don’t have any information. You don’t have nothing. You can’t speak with somebody because the line is closed. I tried to call, but it’s impossible. All the phones were down.

“We tried the internet, but internet doesn’t work. We don’t have any information. No idea what has happened. Just the war started.”

Mariia and her friends went in search of safe shelter. They saw many people fleeing to the subway, but when they got there, it was jam packed. “A lot of children. A lot of old people. Lots of dogs and cats because people love their pets. I love Ukrainian people because they think not just about herself, about her life. They think about life of our little animals.”

The space was so crowded that it was hard to breathe. They left in search of another refuge.

“I never felt what I felt at this time. I heard my heart outside from my body. Just very scared, and I never want somebody can feel the same as what I feel in this moment.”

After three days of hiding and waiting, Mariia set off for her little sister’s home outside of Kharkiv. “Better because even if we would die, we would be together.

“I’m a Christian, and I very hope in God. So, one thing you can do in this moment to make — not relax but feel better — you can pray. In this moment, I just prayed because I don’t know what I can do, and I told God, ‘If you want my life, I can give now, but I don’t know what I need to do now. Just, I’m ready.”

The small group fleeing the city stopped along the way to buy medicine, food and water. “As soon as we left, that place was bombed.”

And in that moment, Mariia said, the words of Psalm 91 came to her. “It just came to me, that Psalm. I thank God. It’s not just the Bible; it’s right now. His Word is alive even now.”

“…no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent”

Psalm 91:10

“It was very dangerous, but nothing happened to us. As we were driving, we saw many soldiers, many tanks. At the airport, there was shooting, lots of shooting. Above our heads, there were flying jets, and even when they were flying, houses were shaking.”

After three days at her sister’s home, word came of trains headed west toward the Polish border.

“When they told us this news, we had just 10 minutes to prepare because train need to go. So we have what we have.”

Mariia’s brother lived close by, but he said, “I can’t leave people who stay here because they are old people.”

“My brother hugged me and told me, ‘If we never can see, we see in God’s place.’”

The trip to the train depot was treacherous. “I cannot even say, but it was some miracle when we get to that train. Bombings, shootings everywhere. In our thoughts, we were leaving, but we never come back. That’s what we were thinking. Big crowd of people trying to get on that train.”

In the pandemonium, Mariia lost sight of her sister, husband and children. “Until last moment, standing next to the train to see if they were there… When the door was closed, I found out they got on the train.”

The train before them had been shot up. In spite of the danger, at every stop people brought sandwiches and hot beverages.

Mariia split up with her sister’s family at the border. Her brother-in-law wanted to check on his parents. “They say to me, you go ahead, so you can prepare a place, so we will know where to go.”

And, so, Mariia continued on her own. “I spent one day trying to find someone to help me cross the border. Only choice just to go by myself… In that moment, you don’t know how you’re going to get there, where you’re going to go. Because it’s the war, you cannot trust anyone. You don’t know who you are riding with. Stopped repeatedly by soldiers, even our soldiers. Very stressful. Finally, we just arrive to the place. Very cold there. We just stood outside.. three, four, maybe up to five hours on the street. Just standing there, so that we can move to the border. Very good people brought us sandwiches, something to drink. Because we didn’t have anything like that.”

Finally, Mariia made it to Poland. She stayed in a school gym, but so many Ukrainians had fled to Poland, that the resources were overwhelmed. “Not enough jobs. Too many people.” Mariia knew she needed to keep going. Finland was offering assistance to people fleeing Ukraine; so first by bus, then by car, then by ship, she made her way to Finland.

She spent one month in Finland with distant relatives. While it was a welcome reprieve to feel safe, the task of learning the language and finding a job in order to help support the family members she left behind seemed insurmountable. She then heard about the possibility of moving to America. She consulted her brother for advice. Such a move had been his longtime dream, and so, with 30 minutes, to make up her mind, she decided to go.

Mariia came to Spokane in April 2022 and found her way to World Relief Spokane.

“Thank God he brought us to this place to help us because when we come here we didn’t have any idea how we can move forward with our lives – what to do next, where to find jobs, where to live. We didn’t know anything. Thank God for World Relief! You guys answered all our questions, even those you don’t actually supposed to. They help me know where to go, which direction.”

Two years later, Mariia still has struggles. She had hoped for a quick end to the war, so she could go home and complete her studies, but that looks unlikely now. Her education and credentials will not transfer. She took a cleaning job but is hoping to find a way back into the medical field. She had been living with acquaintances, but again, the war has gone on for two years now, and she needs to find something more permanent. She is facing the fact that she may never be able to return to Ukraine to live. Her life has been on hold, and at 29, that in itself is a challenge.

Mariia clings to the memory of how God was with her during those initial days of the war; how he was with her as she crossed the border alone and made her way to Spokane. He was with her then; he will be with her now.

“I know this God because God gives people this idea to people who help us. People take care of everything. Thanks, God, for everything. Thanks, God, for World Relief. I tell my family, if they come here, World Relief can help you.”

Please pray for Mariia.

Pray for an end to the war in Ukraine.

Pray for true peace and recovery for the country.

And, if you feel called, please give so that we might provide more help to the people who have fled Ukraine and come to Spokane.

Site Designed and Developed by 5by5 - A Change Agency