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January 3, 2023

I Celebrated My 16th Birthday As a Ukrainian Refugee

By Anonymous
, from Poland

I never thought I would be celebrating my 16th birthday in another country, and away from my father. It’s been a difficult and emotional journey being away from my father, who’s still in the Ukraine. We were always close, and it’s hard to be separated by such a great distance. My mother, sister, and I are in Poland right now but  might have to leave her soon as well.

The hardest part is not being able to see him or give him a hug whenever I want or see a horrible news headline. I miss his smile and his laugh, and all the small things that we used to do together. It’s also tough not being able to be there for him in person during rough times in my life or to celebrate special occasions like my birthday last week. My mom is doing her best, but it’s hard on her too. I know she misses him, so my sister and I try not to complain too much. 

It’s also very hard to connect. And even when we do manage to catch each other on the phone, the connection isn’t always great, and it’s always uncertain if Russia will cut off power.

But challenges or not, we do make an effort to stay connected. We try to talk on the phone as often as we can and use video chat to see each other’s faces.

Being away from my father has been difficult, but it’s also made me appreciate the moments we do have together even more. I think if I were home, I would take him for granted and now I know that whenever we’re back together as a family, I won’t take anything for granted anymore. I try to focus on what I’m grateful for now, like that my mom, sister, and I are safe, that we have met many people here who are supportive of us, and that we have technology that allows us to stay in touch.

One thing I find helpful is connecting with other teenagers in my situation because being a teenager is stressful, but being a teenage refugee is even harder. I feel like in many ways I’m missing this time in my life and that few people understand what it’s like. I wanted to write this so that other refugees know they aren’t alone.

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