There’s a Villa Villekulla feel to Anna’s home. As you walk past the gate and into the yard, the sound of a roaring car engine greets you. Her husband and son are bent over under the hood of a car. To the right of the car some hens share their coop with three huge Flemish giants. A vegetable garden lies beyond the car, as well as a pen for the rabbits, another for the geese and a small, fenced-off lawn for some blaring turkeys.
Anna grins. “I do wonder if the turkeys are worth the trouble. When we got them I didn’t realize they would be quite this noisy – or hungry.”
Until she bought turkeys, Anna hadn’t the slightest knowledge of animals. Her husband was the chief of police in Donetsk; Anna worked as a civil servant nearby.
“We lived in a three-room apartment. Our oldest son was studying economics, our youngest was in school. We ate together every night, played games and would go picnicking or cycling on weekends. That was our life. Urban and comfortable. The conflict on the Krim was an unpleasant distraction, but we tried to keep living our lives as best we could.
“When the conflict had been underway some time, my husband and I were taken hostage at work by armed men wearing ski masks. It went on for hours. I was afraid. Afraid the police would storm the building, afraid the men would shoot us when they did. And I couldn’t stop asking myself who would take care of our kids.
“We survived, but ended up losing our jobs. Donetsk grew more and more unsafe. The night that my youngest son witnessed a rocket overhead and went into a state of shock, was our breaking point. We fled west. Even then our boy cried every night for a whole year. To this day he is afraid to sleep alone.
“When we moved into this house, it had no floor, no windows, and there were holes in the walls. We had two spoons that we would take turns using to eat. People gave us pans and utensils. We made a concrete floor. We replaced window frames. I saw what this house could become. I envisioned a beautiful, wooden staircase, with windows and a view.
“My husband built it. That’s how it always is: I have the ideas, my husband makes them happen. It may look like a lively little farm to you, but I mostly see the work. There’s much to do and everything costs money. We have to be resourceful to make a living. We have animals in order to be able to feed our sons. When I saw the price of turkey meat, we decided to breed and try to sell them. My husband taught himself to fix cars. Our next goal is to have our own water well so we don’t have to travel five miles to get our water. The amount of water the turkeys drink alone…
“Initially I was depressed, because I missed our former life and found it so hard to adjust. That’s what I tell my sons, when they’re sad: ‘It’s okay to be sad. Mommy and daddy cry sometimes too.’
“But in the end I’ve managed to change my thinking. I’m proud of our family, especially of my kids. Our life used to be about material things, career, the right hair style, making more money and having fun. I never would have thought we would be capable of this life.
“Now I know all that we really need is this family. To be together. To love. And I’m not afraid anymore. Or depressed. The war has given me something that’s more valuable than everything our life in Donetsk ever amounted to.”