Ukraine: The Teenage Orphan Heading His Family

Eighteen-year-old looks after his four siblings after their mother was killed in a bombing.

Ukraine: The Teenage Orphan Heading His Family

Eighteen-year-old looks after his four siblings after their mother was killed in a bombing. © Photo courtesy of Viacheslav Yalov
Thursday, 9 June, 2022


Institute for War & Peace Reporting

Viacheslav Yalov, 18, lived a happy life with his two sisters, two brothers and their mother in the village of Verkhnotoretske in the Donetsk region. But after a Russian shell killed his mother in front of him last March, he was forced to take responsibility for his siblings, moving with them to the city of Drohobych in the Lviv region. He told IWPR’s Marina Mironenko about life as the teenage head of a family of five.

On March 7, my mother turned 37, and on March 15, she died. Her name was Marina.

Orphaned at the age of ten, my mother achieved a lot - she was the head of the youth centre, worked with children, did various activities.

My mother and I also volunteered: we brought a lot of toys and other children's things to orphanages. I remember we even brought pomelo fruit - there was no such thing in the orphanage, and we made sure that the children had something interesting, something they had not tried yet.

My mother was very creative. There are very few such women. There was nothing she could not cook or fix.

We have no other relatives. Kind strangers offered to take care of my brothers and sisters but I was against it because a family should remain a family. I wanted to become their guardian, and so did everything I could to prevent my family being taken away from me.

My brothers and sisters – Danilo, 16, Nicole, 11, ten-year-old Timur and Olivia, eight - live with me now. And my mother lives on too, as long as we remember her.

"I am an example for the other children. If I give up now, they will not be able to excel in their own lives."

We moved to the Lviv region because we had acquaintances here from our village - my girlfriend's parents. They helped us to settle down and solve our administrative issues.

We applied for state help and are living in a dormitory. All the children are studying, but lessons take place remotely because all school buildings are closed now.

My 11-year-old sister Nicole is an excellent student, and the youngest, Olivia, will also be one. She has a desire to learn, she takes a book and sits down with me and we read together. We read everything one after the other, for example the Harry Potter books.

In the evening we do puzzles or study poetry or English. Children love to work with plasticine, and other crafts, for example, making paper animals.

I buy food myself and cook for the family. Soup is an essential, and then it can be any dish, we do not have the same menu every day. I'm going to cook a Ukrainian borsch for the first time in my life. It's not easy for an amateur chef. Our neighbours have an oven, so we can bake potatoes and pizza.

I don't want to go back to the Donetsk region, because emotionally I won't survive there, it will be too difficult for me. I am now creating prospects for myself and a future for the children.

Of course, my brothers and sisters turn to me for help. Even if there are some problems, I solve them step by step. All my acquaintances say that I am an optimist, but I would not say so. When it's hard, I consult with my brothers and sisters. Then I go to bed at night, thinking about everything.

I have many acquaintances, but only one friend - Valentine. We have been friends for more than seven years. He and I were evacuated from the Donetsk region, now he lives somewhere outside Lutsk. He supports me. Also, I get a lot of support from strangers who have learned about our history. I am very grateful to them. People write to me on social media to tell me that in the future I will be fine, it takes time. The main thing for me is not to give up.

I am an example for the other children. If I give up now, they will not be able to excel in their own lives. And I am working now to ensure that children have a great future, that everything is fine. I hope they will go on to higher education and own their own homes. The most important is to think big.

I am currently looking for housing for myself and my siblings. Our house in the Donetsk region was destroyed, so I want to buy a house or an apartment - at least three rooms. I save money towards this dream from the funds sent to us by well-wishers. Children need space, they need to study, and they need to be comfortable.

I was studying to be a doctor at a college in the Donetsk region, but I need to find a college in the Lviv region. In the future, I will work as a physical rehabilitation specialist. I have a knack for this, I will help people. I decided this a long time ago - in the 4th grade of school I wrote an essay about how I wanted to become a doctor. As for my own family - my wife, my children – that will happen someday, but I don't think about it at all now. I tell myself - time will tell

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