Refugee helpline operator: most often ask about housing, but also seek care from a psychologist or pediatrician | iROZHLAS

A month ago, a free People in Need helpline was launched for refugees from Ukraine. It helps people find housing, find their way through employment contracts, communicate with schools, and seek health care or interpreting services. “The family had a father in the hospital, but because of the language, I called the hospital for information. And I had to explain the fatal diagnosis to the doctors at the final stage,” recalls line operator Alena Čorna recalling a difficult call.




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The People in Need Helpline helps people find housing, navigate employment contracts, connect with schools, and seek health care or interpreting services. Illustration photo Photo: René Volfik Source: iROZHLAS.cz

What do callers ask most often?
Housing and conditions attached to temporary protection. They wonder if they will be able to return to Ukraine even after receiving it. Because many of them want to come back. And when some learned that Russian troops had withdrawn from their area, they began to wonder if they could return and what they should do.

They also ask questions about health insurance, look for doctors, medical aids. The Czechs sometimes call. They find out if we can help them financially with the accommodation of refugees, with the cost of clothing, food or materials.


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When Ukrainians ask if they can go back to their country, how do you answer them?
We do not recommend it. The situation is complicated. It may seem like the Russian military is retreating now, but it may be quiet before the storm. Or there may be peace in a month, hard to say. But it is better to wait.

And what kind of health care are they asking for? Acute treatment or treatment of chronic diseases?
For example, we have four clients in oncology, so they ask who is going to treat them and where. Either they do not yet have health insurance and have already been hospitalized and the hospital asks them to pay.

What would you advise them in such a situation?
Thanks to lex, Ukraine reimburses health insurance even 30 days before its conclusion, in order to take it out as soon as possible. People are also turning to us more and more, asking for the care of a psychologist and a pediatrician. Or we dealt with a case where people were on their way here, found covid in Poland and had to be quarantined.

Alena Čorna, operator of the helpline for people in need, helps refugees, for example, to find doctors or take out health insurance | Photo: Archive of Alena Čorna

How many calls do you make per day?
At one time it was 80 calls a day, now it’s 40. So six to fifteen per service. They usually last up to ten minutes. But then it takes us a few hours to solve the problem – before calling the accommodation, we provide an interpreter. Because it is important that both parties – the lodged and the owner – understand each other 100% during the first meeting.

He doesn’t even count on translators. I faced a situation where terrified Ukrainians called me for an interpreter to translate their boss’ phrase like “Get up and get out of here!” But when they sent it to me, I found out he said, “If you’re done, go home.”

Which story touched you the most?
The family traveled by train through Hungary for about five days. Three children, a father and a pregnant woman. We started looking for accommodation for them, we were in intensive contact, and then all of a sudden they stopped picking up the phone, they weren’t available. I was very worried for them, I was afraid that something had happened to them.


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Even on the phone, these people can grow in your heart. Fortunately, they just ran out of credit, then they called from Prague, and their colleagues from Chomutov turned their office into an apartment. I remember this story for the rest of my life, as it was the first one I had to deal with. I won’t forget a single mentally demanding case.

The family had a father in the hospital, but because of the language, I called the hospital for information. And I had to tell them the doctors fatal diagnosis at the final stage.

When looking for accommodation for people, do you take something for lack of places or do you somehow filter the offers of accommodation providers?
We try to filter. We find out if there are job offers there, if there are social workers, a school. We want to help these people so that they no longer have to turn to us. But it is true that we sometimes find ourselves in situations where options are scarce and we deal with customers what they are prepared to expect.

What are their requirements?
If it’s a big group, like 15 people, then if they’re willing to split into three apartments in one town.

And do they expect that in the current situation where people are in gymnasiums, there will be accommodations for such large groups?
These people, for example, met on the way. The mother fled with the child, joined a small group on the way, then ended up at 14 in Poland under covid quarantine. There were also two seniors who helped with the babysitting, so that the mothers could start working right away… These people stick together, it’s like a family. They don’t have anyone else here, so they want to stay together.


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And when it turns out that there is no accommodation, apart from the gymnasium, they ask for the possibility of going abroad?
Yes. They ask if it makes sense to apply for a visa here where they can go. They ask about America, Britain and Germany. Or if, if they stay at the border, they could work in Germany. According to our current information, this is not yet possible. The temporary protection system is set up in such a way that social benefits must be received in the country that granted them.

The helpline operators speak Russian and Ukrainian. How willing are today’s Ukrainians to speak Russian when it comes to the language of the aggressor?
It is a peculiarity of Ukraine that half of the nation speaks Ukrainian and the other half Russian. And some will never speak Russian, even if they know and understand. And the others can also speak Ukrainian, because they had a language at school, but they speak Russian everywhere. I think we should accept that at this point. At the same time, an acquaintance, a Czech teacher, called me to tell me that they were forbidden to speak Russian with their children at school.

Iva Vokurkova

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