Aleksandra Makoviy couldn’t stop the violent trembling of her hands.
The sound of bombs raining down on nearby streets of Kyiv, on the first day of the war in Ukraine, made it almost impossible to steady a pen on her daughter’s tiny, naked back – and it was imperative to get the information down.
In the end, it was a messy scrawl: Vira Makovii, 10-11-19 – her child’s name and birthdate.
It was followed by two phone numbers, one belonging to “Mama,” the other to “Papa.”
“My hands were deeply shaking and that’s why it’s so horribly written,” Makoviy told NPR in a phone interview.
Still, the message was clear enough that if the unthinkable happened, if somehow the petite 2 1/2-year-old were separated from Makoviy and her husband as the family tried to flee the capital city, the child could be reunited with them.
The photo of Vira’s back was a haunting image that Makoviy eventually shared on Instagram, where nearly 29,000 people responded with messages of support.
Among them were people thanking her for the idea to do the same with their own children as the war has ravaged their country. Others were moved by what the photo offered – a glimpse into what life is like for so many parents in Ukraine.
Makoviy said the idea came to her as she and her husband realized the roads out of Kyiv were too congested and they’d be better off remaining in their own apartment until the shelling subsided. Before that, she said she prepared note cards with the same sorts of details that she planned to pin to Vira’s clothing or slip them in her pockets.
But then, Makoviy said, “I realized that if we get into danger, or she gets injured, it could be taken off of her. So that’s why I decided to write the information about her on her skin.”
“We are a family of artists and she is used to playing with paint and markers …so she thought we were playing,” Makoviy explained.
Vira often asks Makoviy to draw on her hands and arms, and the 33-year-old mom happily complies with the girl’s requests for bright suns and stars to be drawn on her bare skin.
So, when on the morning of Feb. 24, Makoviy stripped the girl down to her diapers and began scribbling on her back, it seemed like fun.
When it was over, Vira asked for a peek and Makoviy showed the toddler a photo she’d taken on her phone.
“And when she saw it, she said, ah, ABC!,” Makoviy said.
In the end, the family sequestered themselves in the apartment for five days. That’s how long it took for the roads to clear, according to Makoviy. During that time, she was a ball of nerves. The constant explosions and images of violence on television and social media, coupled with the uncertainty of what could happen next, were almost too much to bear.
“I couldn’t sleep or even drink water … I suffered no physical injuries but mentally, I think I have post traumatic disorder,” she revealed.
Through it all, though, Vira remained unaware of the horrific situation, Makoviy said.
“I am glad she doesn’t understand because she is so young,” she noted, adding that if the child were a year or two older, she’d likely be scarred for life. “She feels the excitement, and that adults are sad and nervous, but she can’t really understand why.”
Volunteers in Poland and Moldova helped the family get to the south of France, where they’re currently living.
Touching on the public response to the Instagram posts, Makoviy said, “It is really painful that Ukrainian parents have to go through this.”
Earlier this week, Makoviy posted another, much different picture of her daughter on Instagram.
In this image, Vira is wearing a pink “pre-owned dress” with a matching pink tutu and pink sneakers, Makoviy wrote. The girl is crouched down, a look of concentration on her face as she reaches out for a vase of bright yellow flowers.