Ahn Elena

Ukrainian refugee who has settled in South Korea

Ahn Elena lived with her father, mother, and her hearing-impaired daughter in a rural village in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv. The ethnic Korean family narrowly escaped being struck by a bomb that hit their home on the first day of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.

Ahn Elena: I heard an artillery shell around four o’clock in the morning. At first, I thought it wasn’t a shell but just the sound of something exploding somewhere. But the next day, I heard the sound of gunshots and artillery shells, and it was only then that I understood that ‘the war has begun.’ We got out of the house and sheltered in a basement for 22 days. Our house did not have a basement, but with the help of a neighbor, we took refuge in their basement.

After eight years of hard work and investing all the money they had earned, their new house had been destroyed by Russian bombs. The Ahn family stayed in the basement of a neighbor's house for nearly a month before escaping Ukraine through the border with Poland.

Ahn: I was really, really scared by the sound of the shells. My daughter can’t hear very well, but I thought that was sort of a relief for her. She would have been so scared every time she heard the shells. My daughter and I hugged and comforted each other. But I cried a lot because I was so scared.

Ahn left her hometown and settled in a village built in Gwangju, South Korea for Koryoin, the descendants of Korean nationals who migrated to former Soviet states during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She is at a loss for how to live in this unfamiliar land with her aging father, her mother who has a back injury, and her hearing-impaired daughter.

Ahn: The evacuation process was very difficult. My mother was weak, so she said, ‘I don't think I can go,’ and asked me and my daughter to leave without her. But my daughter said, ‘I won’t go without my grandmother,’ so I eventually brought her with me. I had to work to make a living after I divorced my husband. My father and mother took care of my daughter for me.

Ahn's father only sighs and sheds tears.

Ahn Alexander:If I were younger, I would have planned for it. But I'm seventy years old, in poor health and with poor eyesight. I'm relying on Elena for everything. The war took everything away. If it wasn't for this war, I would have lived out the rest of my life doing my job in Ukraine.”

Ahn Elena says that she lost everything in an instant due to the war in Ukraine. Her daughter's dream of becoming a dancer was shattered.

People like Ahn had no choice but to leave Ukraine. Those who wish to return to their hometown continue to wait.