There is something symbolic in the image of 10-year-old Marichka Vailo. The child was born seriously ill, the doctors did not give her any chances, but despite the forecasts and thanks to the persistence of her relatives, she became an intelligent, cheerful girl.
The village in Zaporizhzhia, where Marichka grew up, is located on the front line. Her school and native house were destroyed by the Russians. However, the child did not get angry at the whole world, on the contrary, he found a vocation in helping the military: he makes and gives charms on his own. And you have to see how the stern faces of the fighters change when a girl approaches them and thanks them for their protection…
And Marichka’s most cherished dream is for her father to return from the front, from whom there has been no news for a year and a half.
Doctors advised to abandon the child “because it will be a vegetable…”
Marichka was born in 2013 on August 23 – the Day of the National Flag of Ukraine. It was a premature and rapid birth, the girl was born very small and weak. The doctors did not give her any chances and even refused to transfer her to the regional hospital so as not to occupy the cuvez – they convinced that the cuvez is only for those who have a chance (cubez – a special incubator for premature or sick babies – ed.).
When the parents managed to get the transfer, the local hospital advised them to give up the child, “because it will be a vegetable.” The doctors gave the list of necessary medicines only after making sure that the parents were not going to leave the child. And then they began to let him into the intensive care unit and advised him to talk to the baby – the child will recover faster from his native voice.
– A few days after the birth of Marichka, I went to the intensive care unit for the first time, started stroking her tiny fingers, talking, – Marichka’s grandmother Nataliya Skorytsia says. – And at that moment the child opened one eye and grabbed my finger. The doctors advised to baptize Marichka right in the intensive care unit, and we agreed. During the ceremony, she cried so much that the cuvez shook. So don’t believe in higher powers after that…
|Marichka Vailo with her grandmother|
At two months, the girl was discharged home, she weighed only two kilograms. Since then, constant classes and training began, which were conducted by parents and grandmother.
Ms. Nataliya works as a deputy director at the Kamiansk general education special boarding school and has experience working with special children. But with my granddaughter, everything had to be started from scratch.
The grandmother wove braids from plastic strips, which the child grabbed by the handles and tried to play with, massaged, developing motor skills. And relatives constantly consulted with doctors. At first, they were not very lucky with the doctors, they could not make a final diagnosis. And only in Kharkiv, and then in Kyiv, it was confirmed that Marichka has cerebral palsy.
The parents found a good rehabilitation center in the capital and took their daughter there every year. She had to undergo extremely difficult training. But the girl was persistent, tried her best. And two years ago, for the first time, she was able to walk down the street for more than a hundred meters without help.
– It was in the summer of 2021, – Ms. Natalia mentions. – The rehabilitator called my daughter and asked: “Are you sitting or standing? If you are standing, sit down and open our group on the social network.” We opened it and saw a short video of how Marichka, accompanied by a doctor, but completely independently, walks along the sidewalk for more than a hundred meters! Before that, she could walk unsteadily through her room at most and immediately grab the furniture or the wall. Everyone in Kamiansky, who saw this video with the uneven steps and clumsy waving of the child’s hands, cried…
|Marichka with dad|
“Whatever happens to me, remember – you have two children!”
At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Kamianske found itself in the way of advancing enemy columns. The front line was rapidly approaching, the explosions sounded closer and closer, and the family moved to the basement.
Marichka’s father, the chief sergeant of the military unit of the National Guard, together with his unit fought in one of the most difficult areas – defending Mariupol. Periodically, when he was able, he called his relatives. The last call was on March 8 last year. Understanding the seriousness of the situation, Volodymyr said to his wife: “Whatever happens to me, remember – you have two children!” Since then, there was no news from him.
|Marichka with her younger brother in the basement of her house in the first days of the full-scale invasion|
In a few weeks, the front line actually passed through Kamianske, so the family was forced to leave for Zaporozhye.
The special boarding school, which was the pride of the entire region (for children, individual rehabilitation equipment was kept here, each classroom was equipped with air conditioning), was destroyed by Russian artillery with several blows. And only walls remained from the house of the Vailo family.
The Russians were stopped, they could not advance further, but it is still dangerous to return to the village due to constant hostilities. And Marichka and her family, in fact, have nowhere to go. They still live in Zaporizhzhia – grandmother, mother, Marichka and younger brother. When the husband said to his wife, “Remember, you have two children!”, in addition to the daughter, he meant the youngest son.
Hlebu is now three and a half years old, he was born a healthy boy, he talked, called his relatives by their names. And, like his older sister, he was very attached to his father.
During vacations, Volodymyr devoted maximum time and attention to the children, never raised his voice at them, carried his son in his arms, braided his daughter’s braids, so they adored him. When his father left for another rotation in the combat zone (before the full-scale war), Hleb was one and a half years old.
– We thought the boy would not remember his father, but we were wrong – says Mrs. Natalia. – While Volodymyr was calling on the video link, Hleb was reaching towards him with his hands and flapping something childishly. And when the connection was lost, but the boy saw his father’s photo on the phone, he was very nervous, tried to hit, break the mobile phone. The disappearance of his father caused great trauma to Hleb, he stopped talking. Doctors say it might be autism. The grandson is smart and clever, he can tell us everything he wants. But he stopped talking.
The boy likes to look out the window, and one day his mother and grandmother noticed that he was behaving strangely – he climbed onto the windowsill and started running like a cornered animal.
– We did not understand what happened, and we also looked out the window, – says Natalia Volodymyrivna. – In the yard stood our fellow villager, who also moved to Zaporizhzhia and repairs cars. Gleb’s father was also very fond of technology and constantly tinkered with it and repaired it. The fellow villager looks very much like him from afar – he has a body hairstyle, and he also wears a blue jacket, like his son-in-law’s. He opened the hood, he was repairing something, and Gleb saw it through the window…
|The native house of the Vailo family was destroyed by the Russians|
“The soldiers hug Marichka, take pictures, don’t want to let go…”
Since the beginning of the war, the students of the special boarding school have left Kamiansky, and more than 60 children have gone abroad. But some students, including Marichka, continue to study remotely. After classes, the girl goes for a walk with her grandmother every day – she needs to move and walk as much as possible.
– We often meet soldiers on the streets, – says Mrs. Natalia, – and for Marichka, they are all like relatives. Once on a walk, the granddaughter asked: “Could we somehow help the military, do something for them?” I thought and answered: “You can just come up and say thank you, or you can make some charm and give it as a gift.” So Marichka started making charms. I thought she would do ten and stop, but she doesn’t stop.
Due to the illness, it is very difficult for the girl to make small things, but years of hard training have paid off, so necklaces, bracelets, yellow and blue braids are successful.
|Marichka and her charms|
Every time before a walk, she takes a few amulets and gives them to the soldiers along with a letter in which she tells a few lines about herself and wishes for a speedy victory.
Here is his text:
“My dear protector!
I thank You for every morning, for the fact that You, like my dad, protect my life. Orcs destroyed my village Kamianske, school and home. But we will rebuild everything. You just come back alive! My heart is with you! Your relatives are waiting for you and I will wait. I dream of meeting you after the Victory. Green and red threads are a sacred amulet, it will protect you from bullets and all evil. Tie it on your left wrist. I pray every day that the Lord will protect you! Glory to Ukraine!”
– Sometimes we see a military man sitting on a bench – exhausted, tired, it can be seen from the front line – says Mrs. Natalia. – When Marichka approaches, his gaze reads: “Lord, child, what do you need from me?” After all, it happens that some children ask the military for money. But when Marichka begins to thank and gives the amulet, how his eyes change! Some hug, thank, ask to take a photo together. And Marichka, after such a hug, will move away and say: “Daddy smells…”
|The enemy made several artillery strikes on the special boarding school where the girl studied|
The girl sells part of the charms, and transfers the money to the Armed Forces. Sometimes he even gives up chocolate to save money, although he loves sweets very much. But most of all, he still likes to give amulets personally.
– The military look formidable – some are bearded, overgrown and tattooed, – says Marichka. – But I am not afraid to approach them at all. They smile at me, their eyes change.
|Because of the illness, it is not easy for the girl to make small things, but she tries her best|
– Guys react differently to Marichka, – continues the grandmother. – Once we are walking through the park and see two soldiers on a bench. Very young guys – having fun, shouting something – in a word, fooling around. We passed by, and Marichka asks: “Let’s go back, I want to give them charms.” I thought, maybe it’s not worth it, so as not to upset the child, anything happens. We returned, and the boys immediately quieted down and tensed up. But as soon as she thanked them and held out her charms… It was such a reaction! They began to hug her, take pictures, did not want to let her go. Then they said that they were released to rest for the day, and tomorrow to the front line…
Or one more case – Marichka gave a charm with a letter to a young soldier who was sitting with a girl. And we moved on. And then the boy catches up with us, even runs. “So you’re from Kamiansk?” he asks. “We were standing there, we had losses, and I was wounded…” He sat down with us and talked for a long time about his boys and Kamiansk. Marichka was already bitten by mosquitoes, but he did not stop, did not want to let us go…
The girl learned that the 128th separate Transcarpathian mountain assault brigade has been fighting in the Zaporozhye region since the first days of the full-scale invasion, wrote a letter on her page and prepared gifts – a yellow and blue flag with motivational inscriptions, charms, drawings. And the military responded – they give Marichka sweets, invite her to symbolic celebrations for state holidays, and give her thanks and an award from the brigade.
– It is very important for her – to hear from the military that they are fighting for her and all other children – says Mrs. Natalia. – The girl feels her need, understands that she is working for a reason…
|The 128th Separate Mountain Assault Transcarpathian Brigade awarded Marichka with thanks and a special award|
Meanwhile, Marichka’s mother continues her search for a husband, which takes a lot of effort and time. Trying to find out the fate of Volodymyr, his wife repeatedly attended meetings in the Office of the President, the Main Directorate of Intelligence, the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War and other authorities.
In May of last year, the President’s website published a Decree on honoring the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other security agencies. In it, Marichka’s father was posthumously awarded the Order of Merit III degree. However, his body is missing, and his relatives hope and believe that Volodymyr is alive, perhaps in captivity. Marichka prays every day for all the soldiers and for the return of dad.
– I have not yet decided who I will become in the future, – says the girl. – Maybe a teacher, maybe someone else. But I know my most cherished dream – that my dad would come back!
Yaroslav Halas, an officer of the 128th separate mountain assault brigade of the Zakarpattia brigade, specially for UP. Life