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It is not always safe to stay at home. But, with the war raging, and thousands of her compatriots rallying together to defeat the enemy, Lyudmyla happened to live with her offender in the room next door. This is her story.

Lyudmyla lives in Khmelnytskyi. Three years ago, she divorced her husband and took her little son to live at her mother’s place in another neighbourhood. They took one of the free rooms in the apartment. Her elder sister, Oksana, lived with her boyfriend, Oleksandr, in the room next door.

Lyudmyla kept her new neighbour at a distance. She knew that Oleksandr had a criminal background and he had previously shown his true colours while living with her sister and mother. Sometimes, the police came to their apartment because of his aggressive behaviour towards their mother. However, Oksana always stood by him and refused to ask him to leave.

Having nowhere else to live, Lyudmyla decided to stay in the family home And she started working at the kindergarten nearby her son, Nazar (Editor’s Note: the name has been changed), went to. It was difficult for the boy to move and to change his kindergarten: he began to stutter. Trying to treat his stuttering, the family turned to specialists. The boy needed peace, and everything seemed to improve first, but soon the situation changed.

An Aggressive Neighbor

“Straight after I moved in, Oleksandr communicated with me normally. He complained to me that he could no longer live with my sister because of her mood swings. He told me that he only stayed with Oksana because of her support in his hardest times. In fact, after getting out of prison, he had nowhere to live. He met my blind sister on a dating site. It was just convenient for him to start living with her at her place,” Lyudmyla reasons. “Oleksandr used to restrain himself at first, but one day he couldn't hold back his anger and started aggressively telling me who I was and how much money I had earned in my life. He behaved fearlessly, being sure that he would get away with it.”

After this conflict, Lyudmyla turned for help to their district police officer who promised her to talk to Oleksandr, but there was no result.

In the evenings, her sister drank with her boyfriend, and after that the man behaved aggressively. When drunk, he shouted and pounded the wall with his fists while sleeping. Lyudmyla’s little son heard all this and was scared. Sometimes, Oleksandr cursed at their mother, Nazar’s grandmother. Then they called the police again.

“Oksana has always been a high-conflict person. She was never happy with my moving in with them, being annoyed that I had come “to everything ready”. She was trying to turn my mother against me. She also said many bad things about me to her boyfriend. I remember, it was at the end of February, when I brought a bigger bed for my son and took the small crib out into the corridor. The crib standing close to Oksana’s room, she decided that I had left it there on purpose, so that she could not enter her room,” the woman recollects the beginning of the most acute episode, after which she had to leave her home.

That evening Oleksandr came home from work angry. Straight after entering the apartment, he took the crib in his hands to carry it to Lyudmyla’s room. The woman stopped him in the corridor. Oleksandr began dragging her around the room, trying to take her phone away from her. Lyudmyla escaped from the attacker and returned to her room, in which her son was watching cartoons, fortunately having no idea of what was happening behind the wall. It did not stop there. In several hours, the man threw that crib in front of Lyudmyla and Nazar, crushing it to pieces.

“I was talking on the phone with my other sister, when I realized that Oleksandr had just been trying to take my smartphone away from me – and I had bought it only a month ago. I was trying to hide it, when he pounced on me. Being scared to death for my child, I broke free and went to my room to calm Nazar down. When I remembered about my phone, it was already gone: Oleksandr took it and threw it over the balcony of the seventh floor,” Lyudmyla continues.

Lyudmyla’s other sister and her husband arrived soon after. They called the police. Law enforcement officers arrived within an hour but did not arrest the attacker. After they left, Oleksandr continued his psychological abuse.

“I was silently waiting for the morning. In the morning, I asked my sister to go with me to the police, but they told us there that no complaints were accepted because of the martial law and advised us to handle the situation ourselves. My sister invited me to live with them for some time. Being afraid for both myself and my son, I agreed. We stayed with them for three months,” Lyudmyla explains.

Feeling Supported

The woman understood that as time passed, the police did not do a thing. She wanted to punish her offender, to receive compensation for the damage caused and to achieve justice. In addition, her mother continued to suffer from moral terror at her own home.

Lyudmyla’s appeals to state authorities had no result, being refused due to lack of evidence. Her complaints were not accepted, and she was redirected to other institutions demanding different certificates from her.

Being desperate, Lyudmyla badly needed competent help. In the end, she was advised to contact the police domestic violence unit. The law enforcement officers transferred her case to the court and sent information about it to the mobile team of social and psychological assistance to victims of domestic violence and IDPs (internally displaced persons) in the city of Khmelnytskyi.

“I’ve got a call from the mobile team. They told me about organizations that could be useful to me and gave me different phone numbers I could contact. I was highly impressed when they said they would come anywhere at any time convenient for me. After numerous rejections, I finally felt that these people would help me,” Lyudmyla says. “Their social worker came to my workplace, and we met at lunchtime just on a bench. They helped me to find a lawyer. When I needed a psychologist’s report, the specialists of the mobile team recommended to me a good expert, free of charge.”

Lyudmyla needed psychological first aid. According to Maryana Demtsova, a psychologist of the mobile team, when they first met, the woman was close to hysterics. After several meetings, Lyudmyla’s condition improved.

“They often called me to ask if I had managed to contact the necessary people. It was very inspiring! It has made me feel more confident in myself. Although I wasn’t going to give up, it would be very difficult to do everything by myself because of my incompetence. The UNFPA-led mobile team has fully supported me. They still continue to support me, constantly getting in touch with me and helping me in my search for specialists,” she adds.

Lyudmyla is still undergoing her psychological rehabilitation, currently participating in art therapy. Her doctors note a significant progress, but the fear is still present in her works.

Struggling for a Peaceful Life

At the beginning of summer, Lyudmyla returned to her mother’s apartment. Now the woman asks her four-year-old son to play in their room only not to provoke another conflict and to close the door behind her, even if she goes to the bathroom.

After another act of aggression against Lyudmyla’s mother, the offender has received a restraining order forbidding him to communicate with the victim. However, the man violates all the restrictions.

“I was afraid to come back home for a long time. It was getting warmer, and I had to go there to take our spring clothes. I asked my sister to come with me. Having gained strength over time, I understood that it was necessary to seek justice and to win back what belonged to me,” Lyudmyla admits. “My mother has been also suffering from psychological violence both from him and from my sister. She’s been working on evicting him out of her apartment. She’s already applied to the court for a restraining order against Oleksandr. I’ve also been trying to receive compensation for the material damages for my crushed phone.”

Oleksandr has already missed several court hearings, other hearings being still ahead. After receiving all necessary support, the women have firmly decided to get rid of the offender by legal means.

The psychological and legal assistance they’ve been receiving add them confidence in themselves. Now they know who to turn to for advice, and how to act in different cases. Armed with the necessary knowledge and contacts, the family is determined to see the case through to a conclusion.