Goodacity – Dare to be Good

Olha Sahal
Written by
Olha Sahal
Written by
Technical Writer at United Thinkers

I am the author of the Goodacity blog, a journalist, and a translator. For 16 years, I have worked in professional journalism, contributing to regional and national publications, both in print and online media. I have written reports, conducted interviews, reviews, articles on cultural, social, and charitable topics, as well as materials in the style of "solution journalism" and communication materials.
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Yulia Didyk
Reviewed by
Yulia Didyk
Reviewed by
Culture Manager at United Thinkers

I am a manager of cultural affairs and a project manager with over 14 years of experience at United Thinkers. I have participated in the organization of numerous successful social and charitable projects and have implemented informational campaigns and communication cases.
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A military mom and mother of a child with disabilities discusses volunteering and everyday challenges

to be a mother

Behind thousands of sleepless nights and the constant worries and fears, there stands a mother. A mother whose strength and courage inspire and move everyone around her.

She is a MOTHER. An incredible mother of two sons: Serhiy, 23, and his older brother Vitaliy, 28. Serhiy has had cerebral palsy since birth; Vitaliy has been on the front lines for many years, defending Ukraine!

The story of Natalia Chernyak from Chernihiv, Ukraine, is a tale of strength, love, and faith. And of hope, which shines brighter than any flame of war.

to be a mother

To Be a Mother Is a Full-Time Job

“To be a mother of a child with disabilities is a full-time job,” says Mrs. Natalia.

“And being a military mother is also a full-time job: you worry, you don’t sleep, you wait for any bit of news, even just a ‘plus’ sign in a messenger… I used to think it was impossible for one person to handle all this! But it turns out, it is possible! And to volunteer on top of that, helping others… To be a mother during wartime is an extraordinary responsibility and a testament to strength of spirit.”

Her eldest son, Vitaliy, is a Ukrainian Defender. Her heart has been at war for six years…

“Vitalik has wanted to be a military man since childhood, he dreamed about it,” the woman shares. “Before he entered the military academy, he made it clear to me: ‘Mom, I want to protect you, I will be a soldier.’ I had no choice but to support his decision… After the military academy, my son immediately went to the ATO – he’s been at war for six years now. He was supposed to come home in April 2022, but then the full-scale war broke out in February…”

When the full-scale Russian invasion began, Vitalik was already in the combat zone in Eastern Ukraine, and his unit was one of the first to repel enemy attacks. He remains on the frontline to this day. He has been wounded twice.

But even in times of war and great trials, there is room for good news: when Vitaliy was recovering from his injuries and was in rehabilitation, he married his beloved girlfriend! They met during his service: his beloved is from Odesa, Ukraine, and has now moved to Chernihiv.

to be a mother

“I am so happy that love and care in our family are growing!” shares Mrs. Natalia joyfully.

Vitaliy serves in the airborne assault troops. “Always first” is the motto of these forces. Always where they are most needed and where the action is hottest… It has always been challenging – during training and especially now.

to be a mother-02

“My son is very protective of me, trying to keep me from crying or worrying unnecessarily… He doesn’t tell me about all the dangers at the front – even post-factum. If you don’t ask, for him it’s always ‘everything is fine, mom, all calm, don’t worry.’ But two injuries speak for themselves…

Defending Ukraine was his choice. And I supported him. I am very proud of him and pray daily. And I volunteer and help the Armed Forces of Ukraine to hasten our victory and the return home of all sons, fathers, all our defenders. Indeed, volunteering is what supports not only our military. What we do also supports us – primarily on a moral level. I couldn’t just sit at home and worry; that I could not bear. But being busy with a useful and necessary task…

Every week, my younger son Serhiy and I go to ‘Voice of Parents’ – I am happy that we have such an organization in Chernihiv and that I’ve found so many like-minded and simply incredible people here!”

“Serhiy goes to classes, and I start cutting strips for camouflage nets – we have a whole volunteer hub here: mothers bring their kids by the hand, bring them in wheelchairs and together they work on the camouflage nets… Or, while the kids are in classes, they sit at sewing machines and sew hats, scarves, mittens, and balaclavas for the military. Having a child with disabilities doesn’t stop you from being a Ukrainian, a patriot of your country, and its citizen. Yes, it’s a bit harder for you – but nevertheless, you have to help as much as you can,” says Mrs. Natalia.

to be a mother

Children with Disabilities Are Not 'Invisible' Children

“We faced the start of the full-scale Russian invasion in Chernihiv,” recalls Mrs. Natalia. “My husband, a military man, was called to his unit in the middle of the night — spending months on duty with his unit, leaving Serhiy and me on our own.

It was the scariest night of my life… with a feeling of helplessness and fear for my loved ones. I also had to calm Serhiy — it was a huge shock and stress for him, and for the first time in his 20 years, he couldn’t stand on his feet. Due to severe stress, he temporarily lost the ability to walk — it took a lot of work and effort to rectify this. Fortunately, we are back on our feet now. Though ‘back on our feet’ is metaphorical since Serhiy still cannot walk without special walkers or outside help…”

Serhiy was diagnosed with cerebral palsy from a young age. Mrs. Natalia also has a disability — she underwent a major operation after a brain tumor was discovered during her pregnancy. Although benign, it had grown significantly during pregnancy and needed urgent surgery.

Operations, rehabilitation, followed by a daily fight for her son’s health, which has been ongoing for two decades.

“What is it like to be the mother of a child with a disability? It was hard to accept the fact that my child couldn’t go to school like everyone else — we tried, Serhiy went to first grade, but the teacher said, ‘You won’t be in my class.’

There were many painful and very difficult and unpleasant situations. However, when Serhiy had the opportunity to study in person, in a group with other children, he was so delighted, so happy!”

to be a mother

“I’ve noticed that children often show much more support, understanding, and tolerance to kids with disabilities than some adults.”

A few decades ago, people with disabilities in our society, in our daily reality, did not exist — not because they weren’t there, but because they were all hidden away at home… Unfortunately, many adults and children with disabilities remain ‘invisible’ in Ukrainian society. They live in ‘flats’ and their buildings have no ramps.

“Today, this situation is beginning to change, though slowly and with difficulty. We are going out into the streets, we are not ashamed, we are not afraid to say – yes, my child is special, so what? Special only in that they need a bit more attention, a bit more understanding and support. In all other ways, so-called special children are just like everyone else. And they want the same things as everyone else.”

to be a mother

“We want to convey this to as many people as possible. That’s why we are now trying to unite, to create organizations like ‘Voice of Parents,’ so that our voice — the voice of parents of children with disabilities — is heard. To make the space around us tolerant and accessible. We need to be noticed because we also want to be seen.”

Before the full-scale invasion, Serhiy was engaged in weightlifting and powerlifting, training in the gym. Now he trains at home — the war has changed and broken many things…

“He worries about his brother, watches the news, and roots for our defenders.”

“Last winter, Serhiy and I at home cut cardboard and twisted it into ‘snails’ for trench candles — Serhiy found it interesting and pleasant to be involved and to help.

What would I want — as a mother of a defender and a mother of a special child? For my children to be remembered, not to be forgotten. Because in both cases, indifference and oblivion are the scariest things…”