“It’s not a Hilton, but it’s clean.” The family turns their house into an asylum, housing 14 Ukrainians

Life in the captured dormitories of the Burian family has been disrupted by the war in Ukraine. The couple with two children decided to offer asylum to people fleeing to the Czech Republic in their First Republic mill in the Prostějov region. He now spends most of his free time in offices, helping foreigners find jobs or places in schools. “We try to temporarily help people before they look around and think about what to do next,” they say.

The Burians are among thousands of Czech volunteers who share their home with refugees. The day after the start of the war in Ukraine, they called their acquaintances, and the unused space of the mill of the First Republic became a temporary asylum for people fleeing the border. “We call it a cottage here. Most of our craftsmen lived here, but for a long time it was idle. It was a place where everything that shouldn’t freeze was stored. Like Hilton, it’s not the case, but it’s warm and clean.”, tells Petr Burian at the newly established address who sleeps on the ground floor of an old mill, which can now comfortably accommodate six people.

Petr regularly refurbishes old motorbikes, while his wife Petra is on parental leave with her three-year-old daughter and dreams of creating a community center for women with children. They spontaneously bought the mill from the First Republic with a farm in the small village of Hradčany two years ago. They soon left Brno and began to live in the village, investing most of their savings in farm repairs and saving the historic mill building.

“It’s not like Hilton, but it’s warm and clean,” Petr says of the ground-floor apartment in the old mill. | Photo: Magdalena Medkova

In two years, the dilapidated area has become a working farm with goats, sheep, chickens, geese, six cats and a dog Máša. They hosted veterans reunions and celebrity talks or travel conferences, which were attended by people from the surrounding area.

In addition, a few months ago Petra managed to find unused premises in the village, which she wanted to turn into a center for mothers and their children in the spring. However, when the war in Ukraine started at the end of February and the couple saw tens of thousands of people heading for the border, they called on their friends and established a second asylum in the rented premises.

“Friends and strangers arrived and helped us prepare empty sleeping areas for mothers with children overnight. Everything grew together in our hands. At the same time, many people helped us by making donations and bringing us basic and essential products, like beds, mattresses or hygiene. Mr. Libor came from Rožnov pod Radhoštěm and gave us two washing machines”, says Petra. Nothing happened for a few days and the couple were already worried that no one wanted to go to the village. But then Ms Irina, a mother of two who fled to the Czech Republic from the Ukrainian town of Rivne, spoke.

Mole, toys and mattress.  Local residents donated the necessary equipment to the couple for the newly created asylum.

Mole, toys and mattress. Local residents donated the necessary equipment to the couple for the newly created asylum. | Photo: Magdalena Medkova

“We slept in the basement for two days, the children were crying”

Mrs. Irina, who does not want to reveal her identity, came to the mill with some belongings and two children. Her husband took her to the borders of his native country after hiding with Michal, 10, and Vlad, 13, for two days in a cellar under a garage. “On the first day of the war, a rocket crashed into the military airport near our city, which was such a powerful blow that it could be heard for miles. Sirens began to sound at home and everything stopped. We didn’t understand what happened,” Irina describes the situation in the town of Rivne, located about 150 kilometers from the Belarusian border.

The first days, everyone slept at home because, given the position of his city, he was not in such great danger. On the morning of February 27, however, sirens began to sound in the city, announcing that missiles were flying towards Ukraine from neighboring Belarus. “We were scared, so we took the kids and hid in the basement, where we spent two days. When the sirens finally went off, we were going to go home, but the kids didn’t want to. , cried and told us to stay because they were afraid to go home.

Two children, two toy cars on the bedside table.  Ukrainian boys were shocked by the war, now they sleep more peacefully.

Two children, two toy cars on the bedside table. Ukrainian boys were shocked by the war, now they sleep more peacefully. | Photo: Magdalena Medkova

The family was contacted by the sister of his acquaintance, who has lived in Prostějov, Czech Republic, for several years and offered to help. Even though Irina didn’t want to leave her husband, there were kids in the game who weren’t the best mentally. “It was hard to go and leave my family there, but my mum, my dad, my husband, they all told me to take the kids and go with them. We packed up and went. left for the Polish border, where Tanya picked us up and brought her here,” he says with tears in his eyes.

Irina and the children have been in Hradčany for more than ten days, and thanks to the Burians they quickly managed to get an annual visa and the necessary documents. By now, they have already booked an apartment for Irina in Prostějov, where the family will survive the war alongside their acquaintance, Tánia. Moreover, Irina wanted to start working immediately, so in a few days she joined a cleaning company. “When I work, I forget. I don’t think. As soon as I sit down and my husband or my mother calls me, it breaks my heart and I want to go home. I know that Ukrainians go to the Republic Czech Republic to earn a little more money, but I don’t need that, I have everything in Ukraine – work, life and the children have a school there,” says the woman in her 40s. years, who normally works two jobs and is finishing college so she can teach kindergarten.

Irina is in regular contact with her husband, but due to the escalation of the situation in Rovno, she does not know when she will see him again. He is angry with the Russian President for interrupting the lives of millions of civilians and taking over the homes of defenseless children. “Why should they suffer? They didn’t do anything wrong. The Ukrainians never wanted to fight, we are gentle, calm people. And the Russians are bombing, shooting, it’s terrible, you don’t understand “, he says.

Nervousness, fear and speckles

At present, the mill is even busier than on previous days. At the end of last week, the family took in eleven other people and three dogs who arrived from bombed-out Kharkov. The past few days have been in the spirit of finding work and moving around offices, this time with the other half of the staff.

“We found out that it’s better to call the office or the insurance company in Czech. She doesn’t know Ukrainian everywhere and the ladies at the counters are happy when someone helps them break the language barrier. They said that although everything went well at the employment office, the mood was rather gloomy: “News arrived that the house in Kharkov, where part of the family lives, had been hit and they couldn’t get in touch with their husband and grandfather. Then they just wanted to do some quick shopping and get back to the mill. They felt the tension.”

Burian refugees are trying to relax from grief and fear for their loved ones. In the garden, where cats and little goats named Alex run around, they roast together or ride their bikes. The children accompanied them to the zoo, walked in the woods, ate ice cream or bought school supplies. “Irina’s boys were in school for the first time. Their eyes lit up with excitement, they really enjoyed it there. Which was one of the positive news in the end,” says Petra.

But Rovno is also besieged by the Russians, so it’s even a little sadder at the mill. However, Irina, who now follows the news closely, believes that the Ukrainians will win this war in the end. “Ukraine will be independent, I believe in it and I can’t imagine anything else. We have nice people, great men who defend our rights. The women sent us away, but they don’t run away like the Russians, our men stay because they love their country.”

See also aerial photographs of Ukrainian cities before and after the invasion:

Black craters and rubble. Satellite images of Ukrainian cities before and after the Russian invasion. | Video: Reuters

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