Meet the Prague ambassador hosting two Ukrainian families

Martina Mlinarević

Many in the Czech Republic have been welcoming Ukrainian refugees into their homes. One of the most high-profile Prague residents to do so is the ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Martina Mlinarević, whose family have taken in two Ukrainian families, swelling their usual household of three to no fewer than nine. She explains their motivations.

“We from Bosnia experienced exactly the same thing in the ‘90s.

“We all know the horrors of war. We know what it is like to be a refugee.

“And I’m happy to see the Czech Republic’s reaction to everything that is happening in Ukraine, because they were the same in the ‘90s, during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“We had so many refugees from my country at that time who found a home in the Czech Republic in those years, thanks to President Havel and the wonderful Czech people.

“So in fact from that position, of people who already survived one war and the pain and horrors of the war, it was quite easy for us to decide that we will help Ukrainians.

Martina Mlinarević's husband Goran with Ukrainian refugee baby in their home | Photo: archive of Martina Mlinarević

“I think it’s the best decision we ever made, because our home now is filled with new friendship, love and laughter – along with all those horrible things.

“I think that we have managed to give them a safe shelter.”

How are the adults who are staying with you dealing with the situation?

“They are quiet, they are confused, they are following the news all the time.

“They are thinking of their families who remain in Ukraine.

“I think that they believe, just like us in the ‘90s, that it will be over in a few days, or at least in a month.

“I also must say that I am so fascinated by their perseverance and courage.

“Also what fascinates me is the boy who is staying with us.

“Every morning he has online classes with a teacher who is in a shelter in Ukraine.

“These are just amazing, amazing scenes that leave me crying every day, when they don’t see me.

“It’s very emotional.”

How do you all communicate? Do you use Google Translate or something? How do you speak to each other?

“No, all of them are educated young people from Ukraine.

“All of them know English basically, so we communicate mainly in English.

“But a funny scene happened to me one year ago, when we were in a park in Prague and one lady told me, Your daughter speaks perfect Russian.

“I was like, No chance, she does not [laughs].

“But my daughter had learned Russian and Ukrainian from cartoons, from YouTube – and we didn’t know about it.

“So she speaks with them mainly in Ukrainian.

“They taught her the differences between Russian and Ukrainian, so she speaks with this little boy in their language perfectly; they are like best friends now.

Photo: archive of Martina Mlinarević

“The rest of us speak in English, but they are so willing to learn Czech, from the first day they arrived.

“Also my daughter goes to a Czech school so she is helping them with the Czech language.

“So as I wrote on my Facebook, we are like a multilingual household of the heart.

“Also they like to learn the language of Bosnia-Herzegovina, so we mix.

“They tell us what something is called in Ukrainian, then we tell them what it is called in Bosnian.

“So it’s a very nice mix of cultures and languages in such a small space.

“I think this will only bring us some rich memories, friendship and strength in our lives that I couldn’t even imagine before.”

Author: Ian Willoughby
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