Special Issue - A tale of a mother and a war refugee

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Just imagine… A war has broken out and you are forced to flee your country holding your one-year-old boy in your arms to a foreign country, with no clue about what to do next, where to live and how to earn a living? Apparently, trying to survive, both physically and mentally, while running for your life is not just a thing you see in movies anymore. It becomes your life: life of a war refugee.

I will never forget that cold morning of February 2022 when I woke up to the sounds of sirens and missiles. Little did I know that the life I had been living had just come to an end, and my world had turned upside down in an instant. All I could think about was saving my young one and my family. I quickly filled a suitcase with the first things I got my hands on, grabbed my little one, and charged on the road with an uncertain future.

After a few days on the road, there was finally a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of safety, far away from the explosions. A safe haven, where I could take a breath, calm my nerves, and finally start to live again. However, I was in a new land and had a family to feed. Seeing your child crying of hunger doesn’t allow you to ponder over the successful career that you had just lost, but rather forces you to take up any menial job you get your hands on in order to satiate your child’s hunger.

After a while even though my child was fed and safe asleep, I still felt a pit in my stomach. Why? Because, while me and my baby were safe, I had my loved ones that were left behind and were probably shaking every hour due to constant bombing and aircrafts flying overhead. I felt remorse for sleeping in a comfortable bed while my near and dear ones were forced to stay in a cold, spooky basement. I felt bad every time I ate food because there were those I knew who were cooking whatever they could eat over a fire in between explosions. This guilt pointed to signs of PTSD. It took me a while to channel the trauma I had suffered into power. I said to myself, that I could either sit and cry while listening to the news or I could be strong and be a role model for my boy. Needless to say, I chose the latter and also tried looking for ways to help my country even though I was in a faraway land.

Bionote:

With a PhD in law as MSCA4Ukraine Fellow, Kateryna Latysh is working on a Digital Forensic, OSINT and Artificial Intelligence project at Vilnius University (Lithuania). Since 2014, she has been teaching as an assistant professor at Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University (Kharkiv, Ukraine). Kateryna was involved in several public sector projects, serving as an assistant to a Member of the Canadian (2013) and Ukrainian (2018-2019) Parliament. She has 12 years of legal experience in the pre-trial and trial as a Ukrainian Barrister.

Kateryna Latysh
Kateryna Latysh

This is when I started brainstorming ideas and doing some research in terms of possible career options. The first obvious choice was to continue the path of a researcher since that was always the goal. I had almost forgotten that a year ago, I was planning to apply for the MSCA fellowship but gave up the idea of raising a family. However, as the saying goes “Fortune favors the brave”. I discovered that MSCA4Ukraine had just launched. Memories from the year before came gushing back and teary-eyed, I applied for this beacon of hope.

Time passed and the news came - I got the fellowship. I was elated with the news but was also sad that I couldn’t celebrate it with my loved ones as I had imagined. This fellowship supported my mental health and gave me a chance to work for my country and stay in touch with my home university through the secondments.

All I needed next was to make a proper timetable that included time for research and nursing my child. Although easier said than done, working effectively with a toddler is no easy feat. So, how did I manage to do it? Well, my golden rule was to not mix the two things together. It will lead to a burnout. It is a personal belief that it is better to spend quality time with your child without thinking about work. Meanwhile, to focus on work, it’s acceptable to seek outside help. I sought help from a kindergarten, which provided me time from 7 am to 5 pm to concentrate on work while my child was playing, napping, and learning. Another thing that helped me a lot was that there were places in libraries where parents with toddlers could work. It was either a closed 2 person chamber with a gaming space for the child or a big room with a caretaker with whom you could leave your child.

Of course, it helps when there are policies in place to support you. I was lucky to be part of the Lithuanian system, where parents get some special perks. For instance, you get an additional day off every 3 months as mother’s/father’s day and, if you have more than 2 children, you get a day off every month. Another example is that you can work remotely until your children are 3 years old, which goes up to 14 years old if you are a single parent (for at least 20% of their total working time). Also, if you are a public employee with kids under the age of 3, you can have a 4-day workweek.

But, whether you have such a support system or governmental/institutional policies in place or not, keep in mind that you will always be the first role model your kids will have. So, it is imperative that you don’t stop. From seeing me reading in the library, my son has fallen in love with reading. It has become our favorite pastime now.

Now, I don’t know if I am doing a perfect job being a researcher and a mother at the same time but I am doing my best to achieve a perfect balance between the two, mainly by keeping the two things separate.

Kateryna Latysh
Vilnius University

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