(Česká verze článku v PDF zde)
Nearly two hundred refugees from Ukraine stayed in summer accommodation facilities near Litoměřice, Czechia, totally unsuitable for living during cold months. The fact that the conditions were very deeply below standard had already leaked out, but any solution seemed complicated, and no one wanted to implement it. When reports on this unsuitable accommodation reached IOM Czechia, they acted immediately.
"We received a call from an IOM Czechia worker who asked us about the situation and offered assistance with the provision of help to the refugees staying in the camp," recalls Lucie Putnová from "Naděje" ("Hope" in Czech), an NGO operating in the region. "We indeed knew about the bad situation there. We were visiting the place, we were in contact with those people, we knew their stories. But we didn't have the financial, material or personnel capacity to really change something. IOM Czechia supported us and helped us to move people to better conditions. But they also helped us psychologically, because they were the first organization that really cared about the situation and offered support,” Lucie adds.
In Horní Vysoké camp, four families coming from various regions of Ukraine united into a community. These 18 people trust and support each other, take care of children together and share their emotions – just like one big family. So, they were grateful to “Naděje” employees who managed to accommodate them together in the “Magnolia” hotel, Roudnice nad Labem.
Natalia came from Kherson at the end of May 2022 with her elderly mother and three children. One of them, 8-year-old Nastia, has Down syndrome.
Because of the hostilities, it took them several attempts for the family to leave Russian-occupied territory. Then the long trip to Czechia followed. After all they survived, the camp, where they spent four months, did not seem a bad place. “I can’t say the conditions were too bad, but the camp is designed for summertime. When autumn came, we were freezing. Another problem was that it was far away. The only bus to the nearby town left at 7 in the morning and came back at 4 p. m., so when my son’s lessons were over by noon, he had to wait for a bus for four hours. There were no stores, pharmacies or hospitals around. What are you supposed to do when your child gets sick?”
In remote accommodations, getting humanitarian assistance was a problem as well. “It was “Naděje” who brought us food, kitchen appliances, hygiene products and clothes,” recalls Natalia. “One day Martina [Martina Rulfová, a Coordinator for assistance to Ukrainian citizens from “Naděje”] called and asked us to get ready for tomorrow’s bus. We did not know what to expect and worried so much. The next day, on 30 September, we came to “Magnolia” hotel. There was heating, hot water and a Wi-Fi connection. Tereza, the hotelkeeper, was so nice. Schools, pharmacies and hospitals close at hand… We could not believe we were not dreaming!”
After the liberation in November 2022, Natalia’s home city continued to be subjected to daily shelling from the Russian-occupied territories. “You wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is read the news. What did they hit that night? Is our house still standing? Are our relatives alive? Markets, residential buildings, hospitals, maternity homes, schools... Day by day they destroy our city. There was the first inclusive school in Kherson where Nastia was supposed to go. They ruined it. The stadium where Danylo, my elder son, played football was destroyed by Russian missile too.”
Now Nastia attends an inclusive school in Roudnice nad Labem and Danylo found a place to play football here.
“Children have a catch-up learning program with extra Czech lessons. We are grateful to the Czech Republic that it sheltered us, gave us everything – food, housing, education and medical care for children,” says Natalia.
Olena, together with her elderly mother and 16-year-old son, came from Kostiantynivka, Donetsk region. On 24 February 2022, the day when the full-scale aggression on Ukraine started, Olena’s father died. “It took a while for us to recover. When we decided to leave our home, it was already dangerous around. We came to Kramatorsk railway station on April 7. It was a miracle we took the train and did not stay there overnight.” The next day, on April 8, 60 people were killed at the station as a result of a Russian missile attack.
After the four months in the camp in Horní Vysoké Olena was happy to move to Roudnice nad Labem. “It was cold in the camp, there were no shops, pharmacies, schools and no employment opportunities,” she says. Back in Ukraine, Olena used to work at a confectionery factory. In Roudnice nad Labem she also found a confectioner job. Although she was laid off after the probation period, she is sure she will find another official job. For Nina, 64-year-old Olena’s mother, getting a job and learning a new language is much bigger problem.
By contrast, Olena’s 16-year-son’s adaptation to the new environment goes smoothly. He can speak Czech well, made many Czech friends and prepares himself to enter a technical school and become a construction worker.
Serhii, Inna and their three children arrived at Horní Vysoké in the middle of September. They come from the Mala Bilozerka village in Zaporizhzhia region, a place, as Serhii proudly mentions, with the highest-grade iron ore in the world. Just like his father, for many years Serhii worked in the mine, while Inna cooked in the mine canteen. After two months spent under Russian occupation, the family managed to get to Zaporizhzhia, a Ukrainian-controlled city.
“When the occupation started, most of the nearby hospitals were closed. You would need to cross no less than 10 checkpoints to get to the doctor. And we were just about to have Liza,” Serhii recalls. “Liza was born in Zaporizhzhia, but I can’t say her first weeks were safe. We will never forget how they “congratulated” us on Ukraine Independence Day. Together with our children, the youngest just one-month-old, we spent the whole day in the corridor because of the shelling.” That was the day they decided to move on to a safer place.
By the time the family was accommodated in the camp in Horní Vysoké, Liza was only two months old. Staying in spartan camp conditions was challenging. “The owner did not allow us to turn on the heater. He said he would charge us 500 crowns [24 USD] per day if we turn it on. We wore our jackets all the time and we had to put socks on Liza’s hands. To keep her warm, we turned our bunk bed into a “tent”, hanging the bedsheets. We laid her round with hot water bottles. We could not take a shower, as there was no hot water supply,” says Serhii. “Almost everyone was coughing and had a runny nose. It was scary to stay so far from any medical care,” his wife adds.
Everyone felt better after moving to Roudnice nad Labem. It took less than a week to find a school for the older children, who now can speak Czech so well that help their parents fill in the documents and communicate with doctors. Their eldest, 14-year-old daughter, who has heart problems, had a thorough medical check and now receives professional treatment.
Serhii is still looking for an official employment while doing mostly odd jobs such as heavy lifting in the warehouse. “Because of the language barrier, you can get cheated,” he says and adds that once he signed an agreement that appeared false.
Martina Rulfová, coordinator of assistance to Ukrainian citizens in “Naděje” comes to “Magnolia” hotel every week. Together with her colleagues, she assists families staying in the hotel with translations, filling official forms and getting appointments with doctors. “After a year, many refugees became independent, but the most vulnerable of them, like families with small children or with disabled persons, still require support. Many of those who are over 60 but have not reached retirement age, have problems finding a job.”
“Due to IOM support, we were able to find decent living conditions for these people. IOM not only helped with resettlement but also allocated money for kitchen equipment, refrigerators, tonometer and a glucometer. It was also important that people who arrived in Czechia just with small handbags got vouchers and, after several months of using second-hand things, could choose at least something new,” says Martina Rulfová.
IOM’s support to the Ubytovna Blatnice collective community centre is made possible through funding from the United States of America – Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).