There’s nothing worse than leaving your beloved home in pure fright. Through the Dignity Restoring Hope Foundation, we were able to connect with Iryna and her young family of Ukrainian refugees.
Introduce yourself, what is your name and how old are you?
“My name is Iryna and I’m 30 years old.”
Where are you from?
“I’m from Kyiv.”
What were you doing in Ukraine?
“At that moment I was on maternity leave, we have 4 kids, and the youngest was 2 years old, right now he is 3 already.”
Is all your family here in the Czech Republic?
“Right now we come back to Kyiv. But later we are planning to go back to Prague. Right at this moment, my son has an operation on his leg. There are things we need to take care of and then we are arranging our return back to the Czech Republic.”
Why have you decided to go to the Czech Republic, was it a deliberate choice?
“It wasn’t a choice. That was all unexpected. We didn’t know where are we going and what to do, complete misunderstanding. But at that moment I was studying online and my classmate, who lives in Prague, called me on the 24th of February and invited us to come to her and offered to help. We were driving through different cities and finally decided to go to Prague. We wanted to stay for one week and see how the situation is going to change, to realize what is going on. We stayed for one month without registration, every day hoping that will end today, but there was no end in sight. Finally, after a month registered and got a visa for temporary residence”
Were you leaving Kyiv the day it started?
“Yes, we awoke by the sounds of the explosions. Packed some things in a suitcase, woke the children, jumped in the car, and went nowhere”
What is the current situation in Kyiv?
“The last days were quite tough. The air–raid alarms went off very often. Thank God, there were no explosions. A few days, after we came to the Czech Republic, we were watching the explosions from our window. This is scary, painful, and displeasing. But in the days following all of Ukraine suffered from bombs. It is an intense situation, this is war.”
How do your children react to a civil defence siren?
“We were talking about that a lot, I was showing him a cartoon about the air–raid alarm. It is our friend, it notifies us about the threat of an attack and helps us. So now they are absolutely fine about it, say “Hi, alarm and thank you” because in the cartoon it is said to greet it and make your way to the shelter. They don’t have a fear. It is scary that they play games that you have to hide somewhere in the bunker, the flying shells. Luckily they didn’t see much of it but they know and understand everything from the information filed“
Have you been to Europe before, to the Czech Republic?
“ Yes, we were travelling before. More with the first kid. Then my daughter was born. And then we had another two kids, one year apart. With the oldest, we’ve been in the Czech Republic and Portugal. We’ve been travelling to Spain and Paris, but with one kid it was easier..”
When you were travelling, have you ever thought about leaving Ukraine, to emigrate?
“We had these thoughts when we were young, we were playing for a Green Card, but that was before we delivered our first baby. No action was taken for that. We had an idea to live somewhere for one winter, or 3 months, temporarily, this is interesting and changes your daily routine for a while. But apparently, once the war started, you realize that the only place you want to be is home.”
Security is way more important, especially with the kids.
“It is also about the choice. When you are choosing to leave. It is a conscious decision, your personal choice that is comfortable at this stage. But this is a totally different thing when you are running. First days we had a fear that we did something wrong, our actions can be against the law of this country. In Budapest, our money was stolen from our pockets. We were scared and lost anywhere.”
Have you received help with documents here in the Czech Republic, people were willing to help?
“We were waiting for a long time without registration and believed that it would end quickly. So after one month from the beginning, when we finally came there, everything was easy and fast. I’ve heard stories before about how people were waiting all day, coming early in the morning to stand in line. But for us it was a very positive experience, people were nice, with open hearts, and did everything for us.”
Was there a kind of negative situation, for example at kids’ play yards, is there a difference in people’s behaviour, compared to the first weeks?
“We had a negative experience on our way to the bank, the guy on the street was really aggressive and he was screaming that you are fascists. He was with a huge dog. I went to the bank and my husband stay in the car, and the stranger continued yelling. But my husband didn’t react to that, so he left. It is a catchy negative experience on the street that happened to us. We were spending almost all of the time in the play yards, and closer to summer more people from Ukraine came. Little conflicts I usually had with Ukrainian people, rather than with Czech. We went to the shopping mall, and there was a carousel with 3 horses. I was on the phone and didn’t get the whole situation. The lady put her daughter on it and turned it on, two of my kids saw it moving and also jumped on. The lady starts screaming this is only for her kid. Obviously, I took my kids off it. But the Czech moms act differently, they always say, common join, there are free spots, your kids can have a ride with mine. On the other hand, it is the difference in their attitude to their own things. When I come to the play yard, I simply pour out all the toys in the middle of the band, I don’t care who will take them, my kids share everything with the others. But when they tried to take a balance bike, the lady strictly notified me, that this is forbidden. We had a lot of different bikes and cars in Ukraine, and we were sharing them with everyone around, but we didn’t buy one in Prague, every day thinking that tomorrow we will go back home. But my kids are used to sharing and are surprised that they can’t take it. At the same time, I think this different attitude and vision might be right.”
In general, do you like staying in the Czech Republic, and how long you are planning to be here?
“By the end of the war, we really want to go home. This is not that the Czech Republic or Europe is bad, but we want to go home. We have a house here, I hope it will survive. We are here now, and you can’t imagine how much we were missing our city. We used to solve medical questions immediately, with stomatologists for example. My husband had a stomach ache and they offered an appointment three months later, or the nearest in a city in one month. We could manage this situation and we know that in Ukraine you can get the appointment on the same day. We love Kyiv. I believe our win is close. And we will all come back home”
When are you planning to return back to Prague?
Right now we have an operation for one kid, one of our kids is adopted, and we need to do a medical check for him, he has a condition of late growth, he is one year behind, and during the last year, we were working on this question a lot. He was in a hospital for a while, now he has a blood test. By the end of the week, we will have answers from doctors and in the middle of August, we are planning to come back to Prague. But it is not easy to find a place in Prague, we don’t want to go nowhere, firstly we will find a place to live, and then go.”
Do you have relatives in Ukraine?
All our relatives stayed in Ukraine. My husband’s parents are from Mykolaiv. My h and my husband, we used to live there for a while. And every day you are reading from the news: bombed hotel – my cosmetologist was working here, an explosion in the city mall – I used to work here, destroyed university – my husband got an education there. That’s terrible. The current situation in this city is a nightmare. Bombs every day, and for almost two months they don’t have drinking water. Two months ago they went to my mother in the Odesa region, and later, when we came to Kyiv, they came to us. This is horror. We are all together now, and i§m so happy, you never know, when is the last time we can see each other, and how long we won§t meet. For me, the importance of life and visions has changed a lot.”
In general how much your life has changed? Do you feel safe, the ground disappeared below you, or points are a fulcrum?
“On the first day, everything collapsed, utterly unknown. Early in the morning, it was still dark, we heard the sounds, I started throwing clothes into the suitcase, I caught myself thinking “For how long I pack, for a few days, or ф few weeks, or months, will I ever come back here, will my home survive will my home not be destroyed, will I have a place to come back.” The first month was the hardest. But after I went back to study. My academy is in Moscow, but I took a decision to quit it, even though I was studying for 1,5 years and left only one module and diploma, I couldn’t continue it. So I found another school, and after one month went back to study, it is really helpful and distracting. Housekeeping, studying, and taking care of kids there is no time for depression. I’m more flexible now and adjusting to changes is way easier. Sometimes you are at your emotional bottom. The last few week’s news is full of stories from Mykolaiv and Vinnytsia. You are reading and feel like you are dying with these people. I allow myself this emotion, this is grief, this is pain from loss, but we are moving on. I have a motivation for myself to become better. They are trying to destroy us, but they can’t, instead of hatting them, I put my anger in the right direction I will grow, I will use this energy for self-development, we will be better, and we and our state become more beautiful. I will be a better person, opposite to them.”
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