“Olena’s Story”

Olena’s is not her real name but has been changed for security reasons.

Eyes wide open, she looks at me. She seems stressed. Dyed blond hair, face made up,
neatly dressed. Olena fled the Kryvyi Rih ‘rayon’ in Central Ukraine with her mother and
two children at the beginning of March. Three weeks later they finally arrived here. The
journey first took them by train to Lviv, then to Sok and on to Budapest, and finally to
Vienna. At the bus station in Vienna someone shouted: “There’s place for four here!”, so on
the spot she decided to jump on the bus. Fifteen hours later they found themselves at the
Red Cross emergency reception center in the RAI. No idea where they were. It turned out
to be Amsterdam.
Through Host4Ukraine.com Olena found a guest family in our neighborhood, looking to host
a mother and two children around the same age as their own and with some knowledge of a
foreign (western) language. The ability to communicate was a prerequisite. Olena teaches
English in Ukraine, so after exchanging text messages, photos, and telephone numbers, they
quickly found a match.
The guest family had resolved to do something for Ukraine at the very beginning of the war,
and they went for it wholeheartedly. They arranged and paid for an overnight stay in a
hotel in Amsterdam where the four Ukrainians could recover from days of travelling not
knowing where they would end up. The next morning they brought Olena and her family
here. So far they are cooking for eight instead of four.
And now Olena is beginning to realize that she might be here for a while. She wants to
work. As a teacher for example. Giving English lessons to Ukrainian children. In addition to
the constant worry about the home front, her children are her greatest concern. But also,
her mother. Grandma only speaks Ukrainian and Russian and had to leave her father, her
husband, and her brother behind. They stayed to fight. For two weeks Olena and her
mother have not been able to reach them. And Grandma is visibly suffering through all this
uncertainty.
As far as the children go: they make friends easily. With the children of the guest family,
with the children of the neighbors across the street, who have also taken in a Ukrainian
mother with children, and with the children of another family down the street where they
were invited to pick out some toys. The neighborhood WhatsApp group is working
overtime. And they have discovered the playground in the Scheveningse Bosjes along the
Ary van der Spuyweg. It has become a nice place for Ukrainian refugees with children to
meet. So that’s not a problem.
But the children want to go to school. They miss their friends back home, but more than
that: they miss a regular daily rhythm. And they want to keep learning. There is a Saturday
school in Voorburg, but that is more about play than learning. Most of all, the children want
to bike to school, just like the other children they see every morning in the neighborhood.
And so the war in Ukraine has also come to the Archipel.