The air raids sounded and Nataliya Tarasenko had been running to the shelters with her younger brother and her mom for what seemed like forever – but it had only been about a week. Her dad and older brother were away fighting this terrible war that had just been thrust upon her and all she could think of is how fast life can change. A few weeks ago, the only thoughts Nataliya had were about possibly going on a summer vacation. Now, her only thoughts were of survival and the shelters and the air raids – and her dad and older brother’s safety.
How horribly and suddenly our lives can change! No more school. No more getting together with girlfriends and dreaming of summer vacations. No more of the things that young people do.
In the shelters, people talked. There was talk of where to go. There was talk that already 1 million to 2 million Ukrainians already live in Poland since many Ukrainians had left for Poland in 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea. Therefore, Poland seemed like a good place for her family to consider going in order to get away from the bombs and the danger.
Nataliya made a new friend in the shelter. Her new friend, Anitchka, said that Poland was a great place to go to and that her cousin lived there. She said that her cousin was very happy there. Nataliya, unfortunately, nor her family, did not know anyone in Poland, but – especially after hearing the stories from Anitchka – Nataliya felt an interest about the place. In school Nataliya had mostly studied English because she hoped to visit America someday, but she had also learned some Polish as well.
Anitchka told Nataliya many things about the west and about America. Anitchka had visited America a few years ago and had loved it. Nataliya thus heard from her new friend of a website called FindAMateForFree.com (or, as Akitchka said, she could just abbreviate it as FAMFF.COM and it would get her to the website as well) where she could meet and speak with others. Anitchka suggested this one website to Nataliya, she said, because it was free and it was starting to be very popular with young people in Europe. Being free was especially important for Nataliya since she and her family did not have any money.
So, while in the shelter with not much to do, Nataliya created an account on FindAMateForFree.com (or FAMFF.COM as she was soon calling it) and searched to see if she could find someone who lived in Poland near the town of Lubaczow which was the town in Poland where her family was planning to go. Nataliya knew that her family had planned to cross into Poland at a border crossing called the Korczowa-Krakovets which was not far from the Polish town of Lubaczow.
Nataliya, therefore, searched on FindAMateForFree.com to see if she could find someone in Lubaczow to ask him or her what life was like in that Polish town. She hoped to maybe learn of the place where her family had decided to go as refugees – before actually arriving there.
Soon enough, Nataliya received a reply on FindAMateForFree.com from Aleksander Wysocki. Aleksander told her that, yes, he lives in Lubaczow and would be happy to correspond with her. He mentioned that there were many people from Ukraine in his town. Little by little, as Nataliya and Aleksander corresponded on FindAMateForFree.com Natalia began to feel comfortable with him and began to sense that he was a nice person.
He told her to be careful. He said that there are stories of people at the border who target refugees from Ukraine and trick them into working for almost nothing. He said that she would do well to contact the authorities and to not rely on hearsay from others.
Nataliya and Aleksander continued to correspond on FindAMateForFree.com and then one day, much to Nataliya’s happiness her dad and older brother returned! They came to take the family to Poland!
So, early in the morning, they gathered up what few possessions they could take with them and started the long walk to the border of Ukraine and Poland. Towards the Korczowa-Krakovets border crossing, towards the town of Lubaczow and towards safety.
As they walked, when she could, Nataliya continued to correspond on FindAMateForFree.com with her new Polish friend Aleksander. It was so wonderful that both of them spoke enough English to be able to correspond and speak with each other. As the family slowly made their way through the bitter cold, carrying what few possessions they had with them, through the night and through the grim reality of what their lives had become in such a short time, Nataliya told Aleksander of her voyage. She told him of her days and nights and the freezing cold. She mentioned to him the dream that she hoped would be Poland when she arrived there – away from the bombs.
Finally, the day arrived for the family to cross the Korczowa-Krakovets border crossing and into Poland. One by one, the family crossed. What Nataliya did not know was that her father and older brother would not be going into Poland with the rest of the family. They were going to return to Ukraine to fight for their country and for their homes. This was especially heartbreaking for her, but she could do nothing but hope and pray that they would be ok and that one day the family would be reunited and together again.
Then, just as she crossed the border and looked into Poland, there among the crowd, was a slim, dark-blond haired young guy with a sign in his hand that said “Aleksander.”
Her eyes grew full of tears. This was someone who she had never met and yet this was the face of hope. His was the appearance of hope in her new world. She walked up to him and said “Are you Aleksander from FindAMateForFree.com?” and he said “Are you Nataliya?” and they both said a quiet “yes” to each other. Their “yes,” however was more a hope and a prayer of a possible new found life and friend, than a simple meeting of young people in the crossroads of a difficult time.