Ukrainian refugee Oxana with her disabled daughter on April 14, 2022 | Photo: ANSA/ RETE ANAS SOCCORSO SARDEGNA
Ukrainian refugee Oxana with her disabled daughter on April 14, 2022 | Photo: ANSA/ RETE ANAS SOCCORSO SARDEGNA

Oxana fled the war in Ukraine with her disabled daughter and her 17-year-old son. An Italian-Ukrainian humanitarian mission helped them escape to safety in Romania. They will soon be hosted in Bologna, Italy, where the girl will receive medical support.

Oxana and her daughter became stuck on the ninth floor of a building without a working elevator due to a lack of electricity in Nova Kakhovka, 50 kilometers south of Cherson, in territory currently under Russian occupation, on February 25, just one day after the Russian invasion started.

Her daughter suffers from the very rare Pallister-Killian Syndrome (PKS), which means that she is both physically and mentally disabled.

Oxana and her daughter first faced bombings; then they were besieged by Russian troops, who came to their home multiple times to look for cellphones, tablets, money, and other things.

Volunteers helped evacuate Oxana and her children

However, Oxana managed to keep a cellphone hidden and to contact people involved in rescue efforts.

Their appeal came to the attention of the Italian branch of the PKS association in Bologna and the Rete Anas Soccorso Sardegna, which organized a mission to bring the mother, her daughter and her other child -- a 17-year-old boy who had been hosted by his grandmother -- to Romania.

During the journey, however, they had to deal with several dangers.

On April 12, at 6am in the morning, Oxana and her daughter were reached by Ukrainian volunteers who picked them up from their apartment and took them in a minivan to Nova Kakovka, about 70 kilometers southeast of Cherson in territory occupied by Russian forces.

After sleeping in a garden, they left again to Chmel'nyc'kyj, a city hundreds of kilometers northwest.

Their dangerous journey to safety

However, the route -- through mountains northwards -- was almost entirely cut due to bombings about two to three kilometers from the place where they were at that time.

At one point the van was stopped for three and a half hours prior to being able to resume the journey along damaged roads at under 40 kilometers per hour.

There were also two Russian checkpoints that they were only allowed to cross after leaving their cellphones as a "collateral". The phones had been wiped of all chats, contacts, and photos.

The only contact with the external world was a sheet of paper on which the telephone numbers of Ukrainian and Italian volunteers of Rete Anas Soccorso had been written.

Once they had also picked up the 17-year-old son of the woman, the van continued towards the Romanian border, where it arrived on Thursday.

First mission to rescue refugees from Russian occupied territory

"This is the first time we are attempting a mission of this sort," Claudio Cugusi, head of the national civil protection unit of Rete Anas Soccorso, told news agency ANSA -- an InfoMigrants' partner. "We ran a large risk sending our Ukrainian volunteers into territory occupied by the Russians but we could not ignore this request for help."

"After Easter they will arrive in Bologna," announced Samantha Carletti, head of the Italian branch of the PKS association, "where we have found an apartment (for them, Ed.) near the Sant'Orsola Malpighi hospital. There the specialists of the scientific committee of the association have already said that they are willing to assess the little girl's situation. It is almost a miracle that they managed to be rescued."


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