Unshakable mother 9/12/2023 Read 5 min

Unbreakable mom: "Your desire is the key to overcoming any obstacles"


In April 2022, the Afanasyev family managed to leave the occupied territory. Nataliya Afanasyeva told about her experience of undergoing psychological rehabilitation under the Unbreakable Mom program.

Nataliya is the wife of Serhiy Afanasyev, chief specialist in current and major overhauls of process equipment in ZLMZ.Together with her daughter and son, she took part in a program to stabilize the psycho-emotional state of women and children affected by war. The "Unbreakable Mom" program is implemented with the support of the "Masha Foundation" and Metinvest's "Saving Life" humanitarian initiative.


- If we recall the beginning of war events, the first feelings – are fear, misunderstanding and uncertainty. There is no signal, and you do not understand what is happening nearby, even a few streets away. You don't know the situation in the nearest village, whether the shelling is ongoing or not.

We had to decide at random where to go, because it became impossible to stay in the city. There was very little food left. My husband, two children, and a dog set out on the road with no gasoline stocks. Some difficulties arose on the way, and we were stuck for a while.

We have a daughter and a son, he is younger. My husband and I prepared them in every way before evacuation. When we were driving around Mariupol, the son cried a lot, and the daughter told him: "Don't look, you don't need to see this." The daughter was then almost 17 years old, and the son was 10.

When we left Mariupol, we did not know where we were going and how. We wanted to go to Zaporizhzhya, but there were fightings on the way out of the city. Since there was not much gasoline, we drove through Melitopol. Our goal was to use the "green corridor", but it was not possible.

Finally, we were lucky to find a person who was able to accompany us and show us the way from Melitopol. We decided to go to Zaporizhzhia immediately. It was scary: every checkpoint was a challenge, because you don't know what questions will be asked and what will need to be shown. When we were already approaching Vasylivka, we saw many soldiers with blue armbands. We did not immediately understand that we had come to the Motherland.

The road from Melitopol to Zaporizhzhia is only 100 kilometers, but it seemed as if you were passing challenges at every section. It was April 7, the Annunciation. From Melitopol to Zaporizhzhia they more or less let us go, and we made it all the way in six hours.


- During our evacuation from Mariupol, we repeatedly received help from caring people. When we arrived in Melitopol, we didn't have enough gasoline. We did not know where to fill a car with gasoline. We understood that the curfew would start and we needed to find a place to stop. Serhii came to a man and asked him where he could get some gasoline. He answered: "Well, let's go", showing us the way to the gas station. When it turned out that they ran out of gasoline, this kind man brought some canisters of fuel. Then he arranged for our accommodation in a hostel in Melitopol. We were grateful for the help, even though we didn't even know his name.

When we reached Kryvyi Rih, I went to the school to arrange my son, I asked the head of school whether they need some employees. He replied that there are no vacancies.

Several months passed, summer came. I decided that in the summer, when the teachers went on vacation, I would have a chance.Imet the director again, who remembered me and said , that there was a vacancy at another school. I prepared all the materials I could find, sent my CV for the interview, and successfully passed it.And now I have been working as a physicist-mathematician in a new place for a year.


At work, my husband learned about the "Unbreakable Mom" program, and he suggested that I sign up for it. We were explained that psychological rehabilitation therapy, which includes group and individual classes, will be conducted every day. At first, nothing motivated me to do such activities. It was important for me, first of all, to take the children on vacation, to change their environment so that they would be distracted from the horrors they had experienced.

But the attitude to psychological rehabilitation changed already during the first sessions. We participated in group classes that lasted about two hours and also spent another two hours in an art workshop several times a week. This allowed us to express ourselves creatively, to create something with our hands, using various materials.

In addition, we attended individual consultations with psychologists twice a week. Each of us had our own psychologist, it helped to better express our feelings, analyze life moments and discuss how to move forward, consider fears, experiences and emotions that haunted me. I am very grateful for the help of the psychologist Hanna, as well as all other specialists and organizers of the program, who with their care and professional approach opened new horizons for us, helping to return to a decent life.

We worked on the psychological aspect. We learned about various techniques that help to rethink events. For example, now I check the news only once a day, so as not to dive in negativity. The psychologist stressed that it is important to limit yourself to no more than two news channels in messengers, and preferably one. Now I feel that my attitude to such activities has changed, and now I look at many things differently than I did twenty days ago. These are challenging times, but the lessons we are learning make it clear that even today it is possible to move forward and continue to grow.


You shouldn't wait until everything is over to start living. After all, the war will end one day, but that doesn't mean you have to wait for that moment. You need to make plans and dream about the future right now. In that way, even in times of war, you can move forward and build your future.


The group sessions gave us a lot of useful information. In the resource group, we analysed stressful situations, studied theories and applied it in practice. We learnt to control our breathing and cope with stress.

Now there are no sea waves nearby, but I have a recording of its sound. I can turn it on my phone. I just press a button and start breathing to the rhythm. It helps me maintain balance.

I met girls from Mariupol and Kryvyi Rih. I met a lot of emotional people. Now we congratulate each other on our daughters' birthdays, and we have a common group in social media.

On weekends, we went on excursions in the Carpathian region and visited Lviv. It was a great addition to our programme. Generally, we had a productive time, taking care of our psychological state and developing our creative skills.

My daughter, who is studying at the institute, has completed her first year of study as a fashion designer. She used to experience lack of inspiration, finding it only when emotions accumulated inside her. And it was after these 20 days that she said: "I've got inspiration!".

In general, the results are truly amazing.


I can say that life does not stop, it goes on. You have to live here and now. There are people, who went through the same misfortune and will help you cope with a difficult situation.

A psychologist told me: "You did it well, you have to tell yourself "I did it"You managed it and went through it all. You did not stop and kept on living. You did it".

I changed my emotionality and my vision. I keep on doing what inspires me. I don't plan any global changes or relocation yet, but I want to fulfil myself more in terms of work. I understand that I will start working now and I already want to work out similar moments with my children, a "resource for the day", for example. 

I want to continue helping people, share what I have learnt and what I have been told during my participation in the Unbreakable Mom programme.

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