Oleksandr (12 years old) had never been sick. So when doctors uttered the word cancer almost two years ago, it was a ‘shock’ for the whole family. He was the first of the many that would come after. The little one began to be treated in Yitomir, west of kyiv. Their routine began to be that of any pediatric cancer patient: going in and out of the hospital, transfer to Kiev to receive a bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy… On February 24, 2022, after one of those cycles, while they were hospitalized, they began to drop the bombs. They took refuge in the basement of the center, more vulnerable than ever. In the midst of the chaos, a local foundation called them and offered them a way out: to continue their treatment in another European country. No sooner said than done. The next day Yuliia, her mother Oleksandr and her sister Polina (7 years old) left their city, not even knowing where they were going. «We had to travel by car to Lviv, because we couldn’t go by train, and from there we went to Poland. Since at first they told us that we were going to Germany, we took winter clothes. Then, at the last moment, they told us that our destination was Spain ». recalls Yuliia. She heads one of the thirty families with Ukrainian children suffering from cancer who traveled, on March 11, 2022, in an Army A-400M to Madrid. I remember his eyes, wide, full of fear. They were very fearful, like little rabbits”, recalls Halyna, a translator for the Aladina Foundation, who since then has not let go of the hand of these women and their little ones, who receive treatment in the Child Jesus, the Twelfth of October, Peace and the Gregorio Maranon of Madrid. Mariia came to Spain alone with Tymofii a year ago. Two weeks ago, her other child, Pavlo, arrived ANGEL DE ANTONIO (CEDED) Aladina was one of the first to respond to the appeal of the International Society of Pediatric Oncology (SIOP) and St. Jude Global, but they were not the only ones: between 11 February and March 26, 2022, 60 sick Ukrainian children and their families arrived in Spain, a total of 163 people, who were also distributed throughout Barcelona (Sant Joan de Deu, Vall d’Hebron and Sant Pau) and Valencia (La Faith and the Clinician). «We knew that in a war hospitals, and especially pediatric hospitals, suffer tremendously. There were children with cancer in bunkers and in danger of dying, because their treatments were not arriving, so when they notified us, we tried to welcome as many as possible. They came terrified and I told them that despite everything, they came to a home, because Aladina is a family. It was a miracle », recalls Paco Arango, founder of the NGO. «We knew that in a war hospitals, and especially pediatric hospitals, suffer tremendously. There were children with cancer in bunkers and in danger of dying, because their treatments were not coming” After passing the relevant tests in the assigned hospitals, they were put up in a “perfect, beautiful” hotel, Yuliia recalls in Spanish, a language that, as his children, he knows more than he dares to speak. “The entire staff treated us like family.” Later, until Aladina found them the reception apartments where they live today, they were in the places for refugees that were created in the financial city of Santander (Boadilla del Monte, Madrid). But they were difficult weeks: they had to carry out all the foster care paperwork, they were very far from the hospital, the children missed Ukrainian food, they had fixed times to go to the dining room and they did not feel completely free. Starting from scratch Nothing to do with the life they have built in their true Spanish home, the shared flats paid for by Aladina, who also assumes her current expenses. They don’t have much furniture, just a sofa, a television and a closet, but they do have children’s toys, drawings, diplomas and crafts. The lamps and some decorations have been made by Yuliia herself. She shows that she is a seamstress. There are also balloons all over the house, because a few days ago it was the birthday of the two brothers. «The furniture, the clothes, the appliances… Aladina buys everything. During this time our mothers have learned not to spend too much, not even on electricity and gas », recalls Halyna, much more than an interpreter. Together with her team of translators, they assist Ukrainian families 24 hours a day and help them with any procedure at the hospital, school and even the bank. Oleksandr and Polina celebrated their first birthday in Spain a few days ago. TANIA SIEIRA (CEDED) Oleksandr has a teacher who comes home several days a week. And he also attends the online classes of his Ukrainian school. “Teachers, don’t give him so much work,” Yuliia jokes. Little Polina, who goes to a Spanish school, has also had a hard time adapting to her classes. She finished kindergarten in Ukraine, and she has experienced the jump to primary school in an unknown language until a year ago. She enjoys the extracurricular acrobatic and modern dance classes that she has signed up for much more, since in Ukraine she also did gymnastics. “They both say they want the war to end so they can go home,” Yuliia admits with regret, since her parents and her brother are still in her country. The children’s father, who lives in Estonia, comes to visit them often. He is talking about his own when he breaks down crying. Too much time away and feeding uncertainty and the longing for a peace that does not come. “The biggest challenge was realizing that they were going to be here for a long time, although at least they have already passed the hardship of not knowing if their children were going to continue in treatment,” Arango confesses. “Those who can try to find work. The idea is that within a while they will be self-sufficient. Now we take care of 29 families, but it can’t last forever, so they are trying to locate themselves. A few days ago, Halyna recalls, they fired a family that returned to Ukraine because their child was completely cured. But someone else, she admits, has come back because she hasn’t been able to take the pressure of being so far from her own. Therefore, the courage of young Mariia is unimaginable. That March 11, she also arrived in Spain with her little one, her Tymofii, to continue her treatment against leukemia that she was diagnosed with a year ago. But she had to leave Pavlo, her other son, in the Ukraine with her father. The children are barely a year old (they are 6 and 7 years old) and have spent months seeing each other only through a screen. “It has been very difficult. I have literally been heartbroken. Now it is united again », she says, hugging her boys, who are playing with the dozens of dinosaurs and stuffed animals that are all over the house. Pavlo, more shy, says that he just wants to be where she is. «We were admitted to Doce de Octubre for three months and the people were very good. They always gave us smiles, they talked to us… I like Madrid »Trying not to break down when telling her story, Mariia recounts her journey without forgetting to thank Aladina and the doctors over and over again for what they have done for her. her family. «We were admitted to Doce de Octubre for three months and the people were very good. They always gave us smiles, they talked to us… I like Madrid », she says in Spanish. At the moment she doesn’t know what they will do when Tymofii heals. “People make plans but God decides. I never thought I was going to live in Spain and look at everything that happened. Change of plans she She also doesn’t want to think about the medium or long term Iryna, who came with little Sofia from Mykolaiv. “We thought we could return last fall, but plans changed for many reasons, including Sofia’s illness,” says Sofia’s mother. Before the war, they went every two weeks to treat the girl’s lymphoma at the local hospital, but when the Russian invasion began, the doctors advised them to go to Lviv: “They said they couldn’t treat us. That if we went there we might not come back,” she adds. The hospital in the great western capital was full and many children were referred to Poland. From then on, her story runs parallel to that of the other sick mothers and children fostered in Spain. «We are here for our children to be cured, but also for the war. They cannot live in a basement, underground », she laments. They talk to Ukraine on a daily basis, because they have all left their people behind. Iryna, for example, to her two eldest daughters. Here, at least, all together have formed another family with which they share anguish, tears, memories and even laughter. Those that always end up imposing everything when there are children at home.