‘I will stay until Kharkiv is rebuilt’: we revisit 5 Ukrainian households rebuilding their lives within the EU | Ukraine

In the weeks after the Russian invasion, the Guardian spoke to 5 Ukrainian households who had fled the rustic. Nearly 4 months on from the invasion, the households communicate in regards to the realities in their new lives.


Two months after their arrival in Portugal, Alina Levchenko and her sister, Kateryna Skrebtsov are seeking to keep busy. Despite their seek for a brand new house and jobs, their minds are again house in Kyiv.

Seva Skrebtsov, 6, together with his mom, Kateryna Skrebtsov, (left) and aunt Alina Levchenko (proper) at their brief house close to Lisbon. Photograph: Gonçalo Fonseca

“We thought it would be easier in a sunny country, with so many people, but still we want to go home … although I don’t think we will go soon.”

The Ukrainian diaspora in Lisbon has been a very powerful supply of group for them, Levchenko says, and it was once thru this community that they have been ready to seek out Portuguese-language categories, which occupy maximum in their mornings. Skrebtsov’s son, six-year-old Seva, is progressing briefly, “It’s a tough language but he is better than both of us,” Levchenko says with amusing.

The circle of relatives is worried to seek out their very own position to settle, after staying with a bunch, however looking for a brand new area in Lisbon has no longer been simple. Many landlords can not talk English, explains Levchenko, and lots of had been hesitant to hire to them because of their loss of employment. Both spend their days in search of paintings, and feature began skilled classes on-line to widen their task possibilities.

A contemporary be offering from a pal in their host circle of relatives to hire a area in Lisbon’s outskirts at a reduced value gives a glimpse of hope for his or her long term in Portugal.

For now, Seva will stay in on-line training together with his elegance again in Ukraine whilst they wait to settle in a flat and will then enrol him in a Portuguese faculty for the approaching yr. These months had been specifically arduous for Seva, who misses his father, explains his aunt.

They have taken benefit of excursions organised via Ukrainians in Portugal that let them to discover their new town on weekends. Seva’s favorite vacation spot is the seashore. “Sometimes he is a bit moody, and lashing out because he is very sensitive to this whole situation,” says Levchenko. “But by the sea he is comfortable and calm.”

The Czech Republic

If Maria Ustenko and her daughter Mila was hoping for a easy transition to lifestyles within the Czech Republic after fleeing the bombardment of Kharkiv, destiny had one thing other in retailer.

Three-year-old Mila Ustenko plays on a phone at the Motol hospital in Prague where she has had surgery on a throat abscess.
Three-year-old Mila Ustenko performs on a telephone on the Motol sanatorium in Prague the place she has had surgical treatment on a throat abscess. Photograph: Bjoern Steinz/The Guardian

Days once they moved closing month from their brief host circle of relatives close to Prague to a transformed refugee centre within the northern Czech the town of Litvinov, three-year-old Mila got here down with an obvious throat an infection that noticed her operating a temperature of 40C-plus.

Medication from a sanatorium within the town of Most did not treatment it, and Mila was once readmitted – however handiest after native police stepped in to move her when the ambulance carrier declined at the grounds that the refugee facility was once too a ways from the sanatorium.

A battery of checks for sicknesses together with meningitis threw no mild at the purpose; handiest after Mila’s signs additional deteriorated, combating her from swallowing even her personal saliva, did an electromagnetic scan disclose an abscess within the throat. That brought about a call to switch mom and daughter to Motol sanatorium in Prague, the place a surgeon effectively operated to take away the abscess.

Doctors suspect that Mila, who already suffered from low immunity, changed into inflamed after the refugee centre admitted households from the devastated port town of Mariupol, which fell into Russian fingers after a protracted siege that pressured hundreds of folks to reside in unhygienic, disease-spreading prerequisites.

Mila is now improving, however the revel in has difficult her mom’s task hopes. Ustenko has had two task gives – one as a sanatorium cleaner, some other in a manufacturing facility – however the proposed hours are an issue. She vacated the house in their preliminary host, Liza Zinova, a Prague-based Ukrainian industry proprietor, to liberate house after Zinova’s sister and niece arrived as refugees from Kharkiv, by the use of Austria.

When a pal of Ustenko’s from Kharkiv moved into the Litvinov facility together with her son, Ustenko determined that she and Mila must sign up for them, with the concept that the 2 moms may just staff up, one operating whilst the opposite taken care of the youngsters. That remains to be the plan however the pair at the moment are looking forward to a different kindergarten childcare carrier to open that might permit them to take jobs with extra versatile hours.

One factor Ustenko regulations out is returning quickly to Kharkiv. “I will stay here, at a minimum until Kharkiv is rebuilt,” she says. “It is badly destroyed and the problem now is a lot of hidden mines, which are dangerous for children.”

Despite the setbacks she and Mila have continued, she describes lifestyles within the Czech Republic as “wonderful, normal and calm”.


Katerina Shukh now has her task again, and that takes up maximum of her waking hours. She is hired as a therapist via Human Doc, the similar organisation that helped her break out Mariupol and to find lodging in Poland. She runs artwork treatment categories with kid refugees from Ukraine and staff periods with their moms.

Psychologist Katerina Shukh with her grandparents, Kateryna Nemenushyaya and Viktor Nemeenushiy, who recently joined her in Borzęcin Duży, Poland.
Psychologist Katerina Shukh together with her grandparents, Kateryna Nemenushyaya and Viktor Nemeenushiy. Photograph: Anna Liminowicz/The Guardian

“The sessions are to help children adapt to these difficult circumstances. We make art and talk while we play and draw,” Shukh says.

“It gives the children a space to process their emotions. Sometimes their parents are not able to discuss all this pain,” she says whilst appearing the drawings tots have made, some appearing tanks and flying rockets.

This isn’t a brand new task for Shukh. Back in Mariupol, the psychologist ran identical periods for internally displaced refugees from the japanese areas occupied via Russian forces since 2014.

When she isn’t handing over periods, she organises shipping for brand new refugees from japanese Ukraine. She welcomes them on the border and is helping them relax in Poland. “I try to do all I can for my country, for people from my country, and often I forget about myself and my situation,” Shukh says.

While her grandparents leave out their house village immensely, she is happy she will spend time with them, in addition to her mom who travels between Ukraine and Poland with refugee transports. “When we’re together, we still speak about our situation and the news, but we try to find a space for recovery.”

Some of the refugees she labored with have returned to Ukraine, particularly the ones from western areas and Kyiv. “Refugee life is not easy. They want to be back in their own flat, in a familiar place,” Shukh says. “But I don’t have the opportunity to go back. My city is destroyed.”


Back in March, Liudmyla Abdo was once contemporary out of a conflict zone. Fatigued, dazed and affected by acute rigidity, she sat in Paris’s Buttes-Chaumont park and recounted her revel in of fleeing Kyiv at nighttime.

Liudmyla Abdo plays piano at the Paris apartment she now shares with her son, Marsel.
Liudmyla Abdo performs piano on the Paris rental she now stocks together with her son, Marsel. Photograph: Sara Farid/The Guardian

Three months later, Abdo turns out like a brand new lady, welcoming me with a smile to the rental she stocks together with her son, Marsel. “My heart is calm,” she says.

Around the nook, a Ukrainian flag hangs from a neighbour’s window, emblazoned with the phrase solidarity. Abdo says she has won an outpouring of make stronger from the French folks she meets. “Whenever anyone hears I’m from Ukraine, they offer to help.”

If the French folks had been useful, the federal government has been much less so. Due to a mistake on her bureaucracy, Abdo has no longer but won a cent of the bills she is entitled to as a “beneficiary of temporary protection” in France. In the absence of that, she has been supported via her two sons, regardless that she has just lately been informed she’ll obtain again pay for the overlooked advantages.

Despite already talking 5 languages, finding out French has been a problem. Early on, she was once positioned in a different language elegance for Ukrainians, however the courses have been geared to more youthful refugees who had to paintings. For 67-year-old Abdo, the tempo was once too speedy. For now, she is instructing herself with printouts from the web, and getting via in English.

Accompanied via a brand new French pal, Abdo has taken within the attractions of Paris beloved via hundreds of thousands of holiday makers once a year: the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Carnavalet. She is happy with having mastered the Métro. But the data of what’s taking place again house is at all times together with her. While she avoids studying or staring at the scoop from Ukraine, she speaks day-to-day with buddies in Kyiv.

She feels responsible to be protected in Paris whilst they’re residing below fireplace. But her buddies inform her to reside neatly, as a result of she will. So she is doing her easiest. “Paris is so full of life,” Marsel says. “Just go out on the streets and there are good vibes – she feels it.”


Three months on, and regardless of all they needed to go away in the back of, Olga Kuzminykh and her circle of relatives are nonetheless somewhat beaten via their welcome in Spain, which has taken in greater than 134,000 Ukrainian refugees.

Three-year-old Alisa, her mother, Olga Kuzminykh, husband, Faig Budagov, and Olga’s mother, Katerina Kuzminykh, at their temporary home in the small Spanish town of El Espinar.
Olga Kuzminykh and her husband, Faig Budagov, with their daughter Alisa and Olga’s mom, Katerina Kuzminykh, at their brief house within the small Spanish the town of El Espinar. Photograph: Denis Doyle/The Guardian

“What’s really surprised us about Spain is the people,” says Kuzminykh, who arrived in Madrid on 12 March together with her mom, Katerina, her husband, Faig Budagov, and their daughter, Alisa. “People here treat us like family even though we’ve never met. We had no idea they would be so friendly.”

Life within the small the town of El Espinar, an hour’s power north-west of the Spanish capital, is at ease – “we’ve got hot water, heating, a washing machine and everything we need” – and their host circle of relatives has taken them into the within sight town of Segovia 3 times to look buddies.

While the NGO that introduced them to Spain has made navigating the rustic’s paperwork easy, discovering jobs and finding out a brand new language are proving difficult. “We haven’t been able to find work,” says Kuzminykh, who was once a number one faculty instructor in Ukraine. “There isn’t much work around here but we’ve asked people if there’s anything we can do to help.”

The couple’s major focal point now’s getting three-year-old Alisa in a position for varsity in September: “We want her to start as soon as possible so she can meet other children and learn to speak Spanish.”

The Ukrainians, who have been taken in via the circle of relatives of a person whose mom changed into a refugee in Morocco after fleeing the Spanish civil conflict, also are starting to suppose, very cautiously, in regards to the long term. “Our main plans are learning Spanish, getting jobs and getting our daughter into school,” says Kuzminykh.

“Once we’ve got all those sorted, we’re thinking about travelling a bit so we can get to know Europe better. We love travelling and that’s our little plan for now.”

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