A YEAR AGO Anastasia Hlazenko gave birth to her daughter in a bombed-out maternity hospital as Russian troops stormed her town in Ukraine.
Now little Pauline is celebrating her first birthday with a cute Paddington Bear given to her by the Sun as her mum said: “He’s a beacon of hope.”
Anastasia added: “Polina shows that no matter what Putin throws at us, Ukraine will never die.
“Polina loves her Paddington. Everyone knows that Paddington has tea with the Queen and now Pauline will grow up loving Paddington.
“Thank you Sun for this gift — and thank you to the UK and everyone who continues to support Ukraine.
“With the world behind us, we will never be defeated.”
Anastasia, 25, and her husband Andriy, 30, were busy preparing their home in the eastern city of Izyum for their first child when the outbreak struck last February.
Anastasia said: “My biggest worry was having a baby, not the war, but coming home from a routine hospital appointment I saw queues outside shops and banks.
“Then we heard that Russia had invaded.”
Not long after, her contractions began and Andriy rushed her to the hospital as columns of Russian troops approached the city.
Soon after their arrival, Polina’s heart rate dropped, so doctors prepared for an emergency C-section.
Polina was born fit and healthy, weighing 6lb 15oz — but within hours mum and baby were rushed to the hospital basement amid Russian shelling.
Bank employee Anastasia said: “We heard a plane and saw a flash and there was an almighty bang.
“The windows were broken and the lights went out. The staff yelled for us to go to the shelter.
“I had just had an operation so I couldn’t run and I couldn’t carry my baby.
“As we were going to the basement we heard gunshots and more explosions. It was scary.
“People were crying and screaming. We didn’t know where the bombs were falling or if they would hit the hospital.
“All the joy of being a new mother is gone.
“All I cared about was me and Polina living at home.”
With cell phone signals down, Anastasia had no idea if Andriy had survived the attack.
He said: “I felt useless because I was supposed to be there to protect my wife and baby but there was nothing I could do.”
After three days he arrived at the hospital where his wife and child were sheltering.
But after the perilous journey home, they had to head straight to their own basement to once again protect themselves from a new attack from Russia.
Anastasia said: “Their artillery was inside the city, the water and electricity were still out and Polina’s bed was a cardboard box.
“We had to save fresh water for drinking, so to wash we collected ice from puddles and melted it.”
Sometimes the fighting was so close to their home that their basement shook from the explosions and a bullet hit one of their wooden window frames.
Living conditions became so bleak that they fled to her parents’ home — but reluctantly had to leave their dog Ralph behind.
Russian shelling intensified and 50 people died when a block of flats was destroyed.
Snipers picked off civilians if they went outside and enemy aircraft were constantly flying overhead.
The family then heard of an evacuation bus convoy that was about to leave the city.
They put clothes and important documents in a black bin bag and went outside to find the streets covered with huge broken glass and piles of rubble.
They ran for a quarter of a mile to catch up with the convoy, fearing a sniper attack or another jet bombing at every step.
Anastasia said: “We ran so fast I couldn’t breathe and I was held so tightly by Polina.
“We didn’t know where the buses were going, but we just hoped it would be somewhere safer.”
The family arrived in the motorcade and after two days of travel by bus and train arrived in the relative safety of Lviv in western Ukraine.
Almost a year later they are now safe and well and living in the Polish town of Czeladz, an hour from Krakow, where Andriy has found work in a car factory.
Their hometown of Izyum – a key transport hub that made it a strategic target for Vladimir Putin – has been destroyed and their home badly damaged.
The Russians took control of the town shortly after the family fled, but Ukrainian forces recaptured it in September.
About 80 percent of the infrastructure has been destroyed, 1,000 people have been killed and mass graves have been discovered.
But the couple refuses to give up on their dream of returning one day.
More than anything they want to be reunited with their three-year-old pet Ralph.
It is incredible that he is still alive, surviving daily on food given to him by Ukrainian soldiers and guarding the destroyed family home, waiting for his family to return.
Anastasia said: “Some people staying in town checked on our house recently and while they were there Ralph turned up.
“It was amazing to hear that he is alive and well.
“We feel so guilty for letting him go, but we know that Ukraine will win this war and when that happens, we hope to go home and be with Ralph again.”