“We feel safer here”: Ukrainian refugees on living in Czechia six months after invasion

Ukrainian refugees

This week marks exactly half a year since refugees started pouring into the EU after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Czechia has so far provided refuge to more than 400,000 Ukrainians, mainly women and children. How are they doing now and have they been able to find work or study opportunities here? These are just some of the questions that Czech Radio put to several Ukrainian refugees.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has brought hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians from all walks of life and all social classes to Czechia over the past six months. One of them is the Honcharenko family who came to the country from the Kharkiv district. Until February, they were living with their three children in the city of Kupiansk in Eastern Ukraine. Forced to move due to the war, the family are now living in Sedlčany, Central Bohemia.

The mother, Julia, has since managed to find work in the local library which helps organise Czech courses for the refugees, says its director Blanka Tauberová.

Photo: Městská knihovna Sedlčany

“Our library is currently being reconstructed, so we need to be focused on reviewing our collections.

“We thought that this time we could hire some help with the manual labour, because we have been getting many visitors from the ranks of Ukrainian mothers recently who are now learning Czech. We therefore asked three of them if they want to work with us.”

Helping out their mother with the work are also her two daughters:16-year-old Zhenia and 19-year-old Lisa. The latter told Czech Radio that she is now attending a Czech university, specifically the Academy of Fine Arts.

“Yes, I am studying in Prague now, but only until December when I will have to take exams in order to continue. If I could, I would go back, but I am also very happy to study here.”

Although it has only been five months since the family arrived in Czechia, Lisa is already able to answer in Czech. Her 16-year-old sister Zhenia, who is going to the local school, has also begun mastering the language.

“I like books and reading. So it’s a nice job helping out at the library here. I hope that we will be able to go back home, but it’s also very nice here in Czechia.”

Julia lives now in Ostrava | Photo: Andrea Brtníková,  Czech Radio

Another Ukrainian refugee family, the Marchenko’s, decided to settle in the Silesian capital of Ostrava. Having returned home to Ukraine earlier this summer, the family eventually decided to go back to Czechia, says 34-year-old Julia, who has a three-year-old daughter to take care of.

“I went back home and it was completely different than what I imagined it would be. The first thing I saw was a mountain of rubbish, because the company that normally takes it away doesn’t operate anymore. People are not living there, they are surviving.

“I decided to return to Ostrava mainly for my daughter’s sake, because we feel safer here and there are better conditions here for her.”

Julia is currently looking for a school to enrol her daughter into. She says that she is very proud of Ukraine and believes in her country’s final victory, but is worried about further military provocations.

Last month it was reported by the head of the Czech Association of Regions that around 40,000 Ukrainian children have so far been enrolled into Czech schools for the upcoming academic year.

Photo: Václav Plecháček,  Czech Radio

Among them are the children of Oksana, who together with her husband and grandfather, arrived in Czechia just two weeks ago. Oksana says that her family comes from a village in the south-east of Ukraine, near Melitopol, which was overrun by the Russians two days into the invasion.

“We decided to leave mainly because we no longer had a way to sustain ourselves. I used to work as an accountant and my husband was in construction. We lost our jobs after the occupation. They did offer us some work in Melitopol, but we didn’t want to work for the Russians.”

Oksana says that the family lived off the produce of their village home for a while, but were unable to sustain themselves any longer and therefore chose to leave. She, her husband and even her grandfather have already managed to find work in the town of Chrudim in Eastern Bohemia. She says that they are now looking for suitable housing for their family.

Authors: Thomas McEnchroe , Věra Hájková , Andrea Brtníková , Naďa Kubínková
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