Welcoming Unity Amidst Suffering:
Anastasia's Reflection on
the Anniversary of the War in Ukraine

March 8, 2023// Written by Cecilia Tresoldi 

From February 17th to 22nd, Anastasia Zolotova, the Director of Emmaus (AVSI’s Ukrainian partner), traveled to New York and Washington D.C., to share her experience as a war refugee and to tell us about her new life in Italy. Anastasia’s background includes more than twelve years of walking with Emmaus orphans. The days we spent together here in the United States were truly a gift. 


Emmaus is a non-profit that helps young adults and people with disabilities transition from orphanages to regular society. Unlike most of the world, Emmaus was ready last March. Based in Kharkiv, a mere 10 miles from the Russian border, they knew that their neighbors were capable of such an invasion and atrocities. In early 2022, Emmaus evacuated their male staff and beneficiaries and relocated the women to western areas of the country. When Russian tanks crossed the border a few weeks later, those who had stayed in Ukraine embarked on an eight-day journey by car to leave their homeland and relocate to Italy, where to date they continue their activities and help others flee the war.


“It took me one year to be able to talk about my experience. For others it was easier, I just wasn’t ready.”

It’s been a year since the beginning of the conflict. Many Ukrainians struggle to rebuild their lives abroad, while also dealing with trauma and nightmares. Many are angry and resentful as they fear for their families and communities left behind and wonder about their homes shelled continuously over 365 days of the war. Confronted with this pain, those of us who have been following events from afar look for closure and hope that even in these circumstances forgiveness can be possible. But during a dinner with friends in the DC area, Anastasia reminds us that acceptance and forgiveness are a process and that right now, given the ongoing crisis, forgiveness is not her main concern. Her priority is to hold firm to her belief that her life has not been destroyed.  

Anastasia tells us that the love and attention that her team has received in the past year reignited her belief in the goodness in her life. As soon as Emmaus’ staff and beneficiaries arrived in Italy, a couple welcomed thirty of them in their home and took complete care of them: accompanying them through their pain, providing for all their needs, and asking for nothing in return. A wave of support also came from old and new friends, who forged together offering not only financial and logistical help but also companionship during these rough months. This attention enabled her and the staff to regain the energy needed to assist other Ukrainians to leave the country and coordinate their critical humanitarian activities in their region.  


Nevertheless, the true miracle, according to Anastasia, has been the unity among the Emmaus “family. Already acutely aware of their experience of abandonment, the Emmaus orphans feared that they would once again be left behind. However, the Emmaus tutors never left their side, even if that meant stepping away from their families back in Ukraine. Anastasia reads us a text that one of her girls sent to the organization’s group chat on the day of the anniversary:

“Last year I thought that my life was over, but today I can smile because I know that you are with me.”

Even among the staff, a new bond was formed. They helped one another to process and find meaning in the loss and pain. This constant hug for Anastasia is a sign that not everything is lost. The path towards forgiveness is still a long way away, but welcoming all aspects of reality, even the struggles, is the first step. Anastasia challenged us not to be indifferent to the pain around us, but instead to embrace it and others who also suffer. 

Enjoying a stroll around DC on a beautiful early spring day, in between meetings, Anastasia admits: “I hadn’t experienced normal life in a long time: taking time to visit a new city, admiring blooming trees, ... I missed it; but now, I want to go home.”

That is also our hope. We pray that Anastasia and everyone at Emmaus will be able to return home soon. In the meantime, we renew our promise to accompany them in Italy: to financially support their operations with the hope that one day they will find peace. We invite you to join us with your prayers and donation, support our Ukraine Anniversary Campaign: