The mother’s hands were shaking as she began to write on her 2-year-old son’s body. They trembled so badly that she couldn’t write correctly on her first try, even though the information was instinctive: the name of her daughter, Vira, along with her date of birth and family phone numbers. her.
“I thought that if my husband and I died, Vira would be able to find out who he is,” recalled the mother, Oleksandra Makoviy.
For Vira, standing in a diaper at her home in kyiv, the writing on her back was a game. She did not know that the bombardment had started.
Ms. Makoviy’s desperate attempt to prepare her daughter for the possibility of being orphaned as the family tried to escape the Ukrainian capital during the Russian invasion has become a heartbreaking symbol of the anguish of a nation of parents.
A photo of Vira’s back that Ms. Makoviy shared on Instagram has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, after being amplified by Ukrainian journalists and government officials. Messages of support poured in from people around the world, with many Ukrainian parents saying they had taken similar steps and others turning the image into art honoring the country’s innocents on social media.
President Volodymyr Zelensky made a direct reference to efforts like Ms. Makoviy’s in a speech to the Spanish Parliament last week.
“Imagine this: mothers in Ukraine write on the backs of their little children,” he said, adding that Russia was destroying “any basis for normal life.”
The wide scope of the photo has led some people, particularly on Twitter, to accuse Ms Makoviy of staging the moment. But she said she shared the photo because she wanted her small audience at the time to feel the “madness” Ukrainian parents were enduring.
The beginning of the Russian invasion on February 24 left Ms. Makoviy in a state of shock. She described the family’s daily routine in a dream state and remembered trying to play with Vira to the sound of bombs in the distance.
But Ms. Makoviy, a 33-year-old painter who was born and raised in kyiv, also knew that the artificial island they lived on along the Dnipro River had no underground shelter, she said. Visions of the horrors Russian forces unleashed on the Syrian city of Aleppo flashed through her mind.
Russo-Ukrainian War: Key Developments
Russia prepares renewed offensive. Ukraine is bracing for a Russian assault along its eastern front, where Ukrainian officials have warned civilians still living in the region that time is running out to escape. But the path to safety is fraught with danger, with reports of Ukrainian civilians being killed as they tried to flee.
The family packed their car and left the capital at night.
Before leaving, Ms. Makoviy scribbled Vira’s information on her back. Vira’s age and her inability to understand the situation were a blessing, Ms. Makoviy said. The girl she inherited a love for art — she liked to draw on her own body — and she had no idea of the seriousness of what her mother inscribed on her.
Still, Makoviy burst into tears on the way west over his daughter’s repeated pleas to go home and see her grandmother, who had given her the teddy bear they brought and did not escape Ukraine until later.
Ms. Makoviy, who could not sleep or keep food down until they crossed the border into Moldova, did not want to lie. “We can’t go home now,” she told her daughter.
The family eventually made it to a village in the south of France, where they found refuge. Speaking by phone, Ms. Makoviy said she thought that if the worst had happened, Vira would at least be able to look back at her mother’s Instagram, full of everyday moments from her life before the war, and see that she had been surrounded by love.
After her trip, Vira also has physical reminders of that love: various volunteers along her route gave her teddy bears. Together with her grandmother’s bear, who travels from Poland to meet her, he has amassed a small collection of her.