An Iconic Moment

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February 2015. In the midst of the cruel Ukrainian winter a family sits in a car in the southern city of Mariupol, shaking with fear and relief. Ten kilometres away, their home is smoke, dust and rubble. 

July 2018. “Our village was heavily shelled”, recalls Natalia. “We were hiding in our basement, when our house was destroyed. We had only two and a half minutes to escape while they were reloading. Thank God our car was not damaged. We drove, and shells were falling behind us”.  

Two weeks later, Natalia and her husband went back to their home in Shyrokyne. “We had only 15 minutes there but in the ruins we found the picture of ‘Our Lady of Kazan’, half of a double icon which had been in our bedroom.” 

Before the conflict, she ran a food shop, and her husband had a small business repairing boat motors. Now jobless, they used their savings to go to the EU to find work, but found only exploitation and cruelty. They returned with damaged health, debts, and depression.  

"I cured myself by composing poems. I photoshopped and framed them, and asked the girls at flower shops to help me sell them. Then I launched a Facebook page, and from social media I learned about IOM grants for displaced people. I applied and got support to open a snack kiosk.”  

Months passed. Natalia knew that her shop in Shyrokyne was also in ruins but she asked the civil-military cooperation team to see if they could find any undamaged equipment. They found two fridges, two freezers, and two water tanks – all damaged, but operational. They also checked the ruins of Natalia’s house where – incredibly – they found the other half of her icon. 

“I could not stop crying. Two parts of the icon, undamaged, reunited after eight months. It was a sign for me that I have chosen the right way. We only need to be strong, patient, and cherish everything we have. We are alive and uninjured; everything will be fine.” 

“We all live under the same God. No matter if we are rich or poor. The war made us all equal. We lost everything. Many people who have not been through this cannot understand what is going on here. My message is: people, do something! Without your efforts, nothing will change. Nothing will change, unless you overcome your fear. I was able to do it, and this first step made me able to continue with my life.”  

 While researching for this story, we learnt that the original “Our Lady of Kazan”, a famous orthodox icon, was discovered in a burnt-out house in Russia in the 16th century.