My relatives are strangers. My strangers are loved ones.

Anna Chernikova

17
years old,
Sumy, Ukraine

Since the beginning of the war, I have changed families five times and moved to four different countries.

Throughout my life, I had always lived with my mum. However, since the war began, we endured several challenging days without light, water, or communication. Due to the shelling, we eventually sought refuge in Poltava, where we spent an entire day waiting for a train. After two days, we finally managed to visit relatives in Italy. While I had always known I had an uncle there, I never imagined meeting him in person. That's how I ended up with my first foreign family. We were warmly welcomed, but after a few weeks, my uncle suggested that my mum and I move to my mum's stepfather's house due to limited space in his one-bedroom flat. So, we relocated to live with my mum's stepdad's family, who resided in a three-room flat. Initially, everything was fine, but soon monotony set in. Each day followed a similar routine of breakfast, cleaning, lunch, and so on, with no one to socialize with as I couldn't enrol in school due to a lack of documents. It was terribly dull and challenging both for my mum and me, as it took a long time to arrange documents in Italy, making it impossible to work without them or knowledge of the language. After three months, my stepfather subtly hinted that we should leave and advised us to go to Poland, which we did. However, in Poland, we encountered a housing shortage and ended up settling with my mother's friend's family in a hotel room turned refugee centre. Living in one room with five beds was very difficult, and by the end of October, we returned to Ukraine. 

After seven months of being away from home, I finally felt like I was back where I belonged. However, instead of going to our flat, we decided to live with my stepfather due to the nearby bomb shelter. Thus, I found myself in my fourth family and met my half-sister, with whom I always found something to talk about despite our different interests. She and I became roommates and shared many moments together. I also got to know my stepfather's parents, including a kind grandmother and a strict but gentle grandfather. Eventually, my mum and I decided it would be best if I lived with my dad for a while. So, I moved to London, where my dad had been living for over ten years. Getting to know my new family was not as easy as I expected, and I initially felt very homesick. My dad lived with his stepmother, who had a son from another marriage, and they had recently welcomed a baby girl. Over time, we became friends, but the most important person in that family to me was my little sister. She reminded me of my childhood and home.

My mother and I often remarked that through emigration, one quickly discerns who is truly a friend and who remains a stranger. It's a realisation that close relatives can sometimes feel like strangers, while distant acquaintances can unexpectedly become like family. My little sister has become an incredibly important person to me, even though I couldn't have anticipated it when I first arrived in London. I aspire to be the best sister in the world for her.

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