Brag about offering accommodation to a Ukrainian family? Misha does not consider it necessary. “Actually, my husband and I didn’t think about it for very long. There was that possibility, so why not,” he says, and you can see he takes it for granted. But would she decide to now, after two weeks, sharing his home with a mother of two who had been driven home by the war?
Did you react very quickly – was it really that clear that you wanted to provide a home for strangers?
There was nothing to think about. We have a friend from Cyprus who, after the Turkish invasion, had to leave his house with some belongings within hours and then lived in a tent for two years because he could not return. We knew his heartbreaking story of how he felt about what it was… That was one of the reasons we didn’t hold back. And as much as we could – they had room for it.
What did they want you to know?
They needed information on how many people we could accommodate, for how long and how much we wanted for it – of course we didn’t say anything we wanted to help.
How did you find “your” family?
We contacted the ministry which collected offers from people regarding housing. But a day or two passed and no one answered. But when we watched the news, the tapes of what was going on, how many people were on the move, we couldn’t stand it and called People in Need. There they acted quickly and within hours made contact with the lady who helped get this particular family out of Ukraine.
You had a few days to prepare their accommodation. What did you have to do at that time?
Fortunately, our house is arranged in such a way as to be able to reserve two rooms with accessories and an independent entrance. This part was originally a walkway from the rest of the house, so we separated it to give them a sense of privacy. We also realized that this privacy will also be necessary for us – you want and need peace in the bathroom, on the toilet, to have a place to rest after work… So we made it so that we are two separate units, but with the possibility at any time of meeting to have tea and discuss.
Did you use foundations, foundations, to renovate and furnish the rooms?
Yes, we asked neighbors and those who wanted to help. It was amazing that everyone reacted so quickly and willingly. Our family had to flee Ukraine on Saturday, and on Monday evening they came to our house and were able to settle in an environment that would give them everything they needed.
How was the first meeting?
Strange and I probably won’t forget it. It was night, darkness, people you don’t know will bring you a family who are afraid, who are tired… These are people whose lives have been reduced to two bags, who have no no idea where they are or who we are. There is also a language barrier – even though the lady speaks a little Czech, the children don’t understand Czech or much English. We actually just introduced ourselves, showed them where they would be living, and then we kissed. It was very touching.
What were you going through at the time?
When you watch all this on TV, it’s awful. But when you see those who have to leave their homes because of the war, it will hit you hard. Well, at least for me. I cried for several nights and sometimes I can’t even watch the pictures from Ukraine. I can’t even imagine myself in their shoes, and I don’t want to imagine either.
After all, some time has passed since you lived under one roof. Sometimes we hear complaints about the difficulty of Ukrainian refugees, about the fact that they are not satisfied with anything. What is your experience ?
Our family is terribly modest, kind and helpful – the lady has done everything necessary to stay, she is trying to find a job and earn a living for herself and her children. They are grateful, as they say, that there are swallows in the nest, always frightened and more trusting when they are in sight. It is certainly not true that they are waiting for something with an outstretched hand, taking help for granted, or asking for something more.
How do you help them now? Besides providing them with facilities?
You know, there’s a lot of furniture – we mostly call, we’re like a telephone exchange. We help to find a school for a youngest daughter, giving private lessons in Czech and English to an eldest son. Now the most important thing is that they understand and can start living differently than with a mobile phone in hand – because it’s the only way for them to communicate with their friends. They need to search and find new ones here. And they want it, and that’s the main thing.
Would you need help?
Not exactly. We are in contact with volunteers who organize help in the neighboring town. They not only offer clothes, but also the possibility of eating or just help and administration. We already have more Ukrainian families in our village, so they will definitely start to contact each other over time and, in addition to social contact, they will also support each other in terms of inclusion.
At first it was talked about and it was thought that Ukrainians would need housing for a month – it can be done even if there are problems. But have you considered staying for weeks or even months?
We’ve talked about the moon, that’s a fact, but as long as they want and need it, they’ve got it for sure. Although the lady would like to find a job and her house to be independent. She is very kind and hardworking. Her goal is to provide for her family, not rely on help. We have no reason to regret it or anything like that. On the contrary, we want them to know that we consider them part of the family. We are just thinking about how the boys will organize the birthday party they will have. To enjoy it and forget all that is bad for a while.
If this family became independent and moved, would you offer shelter to other refugees?
To be honest? I do not know. Not that we don’t want to keep helping, but it’s mentally difficult for me. Like I said, their fate is just up to me, I take it very personally and I sleep poorly… We would definitely consider the possibility, but we won’t fix it until it happens.
How did those around you accept the fact that you hosted a Ukrainian family? After all, you live in a village, the neighbors see you on a set…
The nearest neighbors we are in close contact with know this and either appreciated it or did not comment. Some have a restrained attitude and some are very surprised. But we wanted to do it, we don’t have to ask permission, so we don’t even bother. And just as they may be surprised that we did, I’m surprised they didn’t, because many would have that opportunity. We are just different and we should take it that way and not criticize it.
Were you surprised by the reactions of the region?
Of course, they were surprised! And for better or for worse. Well, for example, the reactions of colleagues who, when they found out, came and gave me the money – and it took me a few thousand to pass it on to our family or get something for them that they need. I wouldn’t expect it from some people… Well, on the other hand, I’m struck and surprised by the opinions of people who are afraid for their money, their property, to see “devourers” among the refugees. Do they not realize how little apart we are from the fact that we will also have to pack in a bag and seek help elsewhere? These people are not fleeing Ukraine because they want to, but because they have to save their lives. Luckily there are more people around me trying to help.
HELP IN UKRAINE
* Do you have people around you who fled to us from the horrors of war? Refer them to the Handbook for Ukrainians, where to seek help. It provides information on the status of visas, health insurance, accommodation options, etc.
* Do you offer help or do you need it yourself? Take a look at the Help Ukraine online marketplace. Major aid organizations coordinate the supply and demand of aid to get the best they need.
* Are you looking for help from a lawyer, psychologist, therapist, translator or social worker? You can find a free offer from experts on the YOUkraine.live site.
More articles on the war in Ukraine can be found here.