Being a ‘Super Dad’ when life is turned upside down

“I have three kids whom I have to put on their feet; I want them to live happily and to prosper in their future,” Andrii, 35, tells me.

It’s a goal that most parents share, but for Andrii one that became a lot tougher when Ukraine’s conflict escalated in mid-2014.

“Our children were frightened a lot; they kept hiding under the table. When the shelling started we had to run to a basement. Once we lived in a basement for one week,” he says.

The direct danger was evident but Andrii also recognised the immediate and longer-term psychological impact of the violence on his children, who at the time were three, four and six years old.

A father watches as his sons play on a merry go round
UNICEF/KozalovAndrii, 35, plays with his sons Kolya, 7, (left) and Zakhar, 6, at their local playground.

He explains that there was no option but to flee home in Horlivka for the relative safety of the southeastern port city of Mariupol. It was at this point that Andrii became a single father.

“It started with the war, with the fear. Then I lost my wife – well, she just left to live her own life,” he explains. “It was extremely hard. I was suffering for a while and I’m still suffering.”

At the local playground, hemmed in by a square of large apartment blocks, Andrii pushes his children on the merry-go-round. He tells me that they keep him going. He’s proud of having done what he can to protect them and to help them develop, despite everything going on.

“I came here to make the children safe, to let them study, so that they don’t develop stress disorders, to find a way out,” he says.

Back in Andrii’s apartment, his son Zakhar, 6, flies his new toy helicopter into the camera lens. There is little room to move and the small two-bedroom space is shared with another family of three.

“Now I have nothing, I have to acquire it back, little by little as the years go by,” he says. Andrii explains that his job at a nearby coal mine pays a small salary and they are scraping by. There’s a concern, even a sense of guilt that he can’t provide more for his children.

A dad and his buys sit around a table playing games.
UNICEF//KozalovAndrii, 35, plays a board game with his sons Zakhar, 6, (second right) and Kolya, 7, (second left) as well as his nephew Lesha, 10, at their apartment in Mariupol, eastern Ukraine.

“My children will grow up – what will I leave to them? How can I get a house, houseware, all that stuff?”

But emotionally Andrii is doing what he can to get it right for his children. “You have to push forward, to live your life, to keep fighting.”

I leave with deep admiration, reflecting on how tough it is when returning home from a bad or stressful day at work and trying to be a decent father for two children in New York.

Toby Fricker is a Communication Specialist working as part of the Emergency Response Team, providing support to COs and ROs on communication and advocacy in humanitarian preparedness and response.

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