‘We Are Very Thankful and Very Lucky – We Hope We Can Go Home Soon’ – ORT Family Tells of Escape from Ukraine


The family of a Ukrainian ORT student have described the traumatic experience of leaving the country due to the ongoing conflict – and praised the volunteers who have helped them settle in Bulgaria.

Olga and her children Sofia and Seva fled their home in Odessa along with Olga’s mother and mother-in-law when the violence erupted last month.

Their arduous journey to cross the Ukraine-Moldova border, and later to travel through Romania, led them to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. There, ORT staff have helped them find accommodation and work. Seva – a seventh grader – is continuing his education at the city’s ORT school.

Olga says the 26 hours spent at the border trying to leave Ukraine was the hardest part of their escape. The family initially spent eight days in Moldova and expected to return home quickly, believing the conflict would last no more than a couple of weeks.

When it became clear they could not return so soon they regrouped and were hosted by a Moldovan family who they did not know. Because they were travelling by car the family was advised to move on from Moldova to a country with fewer refugees.

After speaking to her husband, Olga decided not to move much further across Europe and contacted the ORT school in Moldova, where one of Seva’s friends is now studying.

She wanted her son to continue his education in person rather than online and believed the ORT connection would help. Eventually she was put in contact with Plamen Petrov, ORT Bulgaria’s National Director, who immediately responded offering reassurance that help could be provided in Sofia.

He assisted them to find a hotel and ORT paid for their accommodation, before the family resettled at a monastery on the outskirts of the city. They will be able to stay there without cost until a time when they are able to return to Ukraine.

Olga has begun paid work at the monastery, feeding goats and sheep (Seva and Sofia are pictured top right with the animals) and making Bryndza, a speciality in the region. In Odessa she was working as an administrator at a dog kennels.

The two grandmothers also work in the kitchens. They all want to help and give something back.

The family visit the media facilities at the ORT No. 134 “Dimcho Debelianov” Jewish School in Sofia

Seva has started studying at ORT No. 134 “Dimcho Debelianov” Jewish School in Sofia, moving into the sixth grade where he learns alongside Plamen’s own son, who is accompanying Seva and helping him settle in.

Olga explains: “We never imagined the sort of help we have received. Our plan is to go home as soon as the conflict is over, but it is different for everyone. More than half of our friends have left Odessa for other countries and not everyone has a home left to go back to. One boy has made Aliyah to Israel and won’t move back.”

Sofia, who is 18, is continuing her university course online. She says her friends are doing the same in the countries they have reached and some may apply for jobs abroad rather than return to Ukraine.

But she adds: “If the conflict is over soon and there is somewhere to go back to then my family will return.”

Olga says their new home at the monastery is “magical – an amazing place. We saw baby goats being born when we arrived and we have fed them. After all the trauma and pain we went through to get here, it was amazing to see new life. We have received such incredible support and been offered whatever we could possibly need.”

In addition to assisting refugees who have reached Bulgaria, Plamen and the ORT Bulgaria team have been co-ordinating humanitarian aid for ORT families still in Ukraine and have organized transportation of medicines and much-needed provisions, made possible thanks to donations from ORT Netherlands.

The vehicle packed with aid prepares to leave Sofia for Ukraine

Items were also donated thanks to the great support of Vesela Paldamova – principal of the ORT school in Sofia and the whole school community, including students, parents and teachers.

Plamen explained: “The key challenges now are to provide clothes and other items for the three refugee families who have reached Bulgaria who we are assisting.

“Some people have dental needs and so we are organizing dentists for them. We are so grateful to World ORT for sending financial assistance to cover these everyday food and medical expenses.”

Given the traumatic experiences of the past month, how do Olga and her family remain so positive?

“We cannot give up now. We can never give up,” she says. “I have to look after my kids and their grandmothers. There is no space for anything else. We are very thankful and very lucky. I really hope that I will soon be making the Bryndza back home in Ukraine.”

Click here to support ORT’s Ukraine Emergency Appeal