An American family in Czechia opens their home to 12 Ukrainian refugees

From the onset of the war, the Perry family's pension has been a safe haven for asylum seekers fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Kathrin Yaromich

Written by Kathrin Yaromich Published on 31.05.2022 14:40:00 (updated on 02.06.2022) Reading time: 7 minutes

Avi and Eli Perry moved to the Czech Republic from North Carolina in 2017. They eventually settled in Třebovle-Miškovice, a small town just outside Prague, where they are now raising their two kids – an 8-year-old Munchkin and a 3-year-old Bean.

To realize their dream of running a pension, they bought a beautiful house with a picturesque garden. For 18 months, everything was going smoothly, but then came the Covid lockdown.

This year, Avi and Eli's plan to resume the pension's operation has been hindered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

"The first night of the war, I come back from work and tell Avi, 'It is going to be a couple of million people in Central Europe. What do you think about getting the place ready?' " recalled Eli.

The Perry family had an implicit understanding that they will open their doors to refugees.

We basically told each other, 'We are doing this, right?' We don't have a lot of cash, but we have resources that we can give," added Avi. "We always close up for the winter anyway, so we had to make sure that everyone has fresh linen and that the place is dusted."

The refugee situation struck a particularly personal chord for Avi.

"More than 75 years ago, some random person, from the kindness of their heart, opened their home to a sick Polish Jewish boy – and that's why I am around," said Avi. "That was my grandfather."

"Partly because of that and partly because of how I was raised, there was never a question if we should open up our home," said Avi.

As they spread the word about the space they were offering through friends, Facebook groups, and NGO websites Avi and Eli were connected with two Ukrainian families who had met while sheltering from bombing in their city's metro and were looking for accommodation in Czechia.

(The names and other details of the refugees hosted by Avi and Eli have not been disclosed for privacy reasons.)

Welcoming guests

After two years of lockdown isolation, the family prepared to welcome 12 guests from Ukraine into their large house.

"Before everyone arrived, I hit the store and picked up basic hygiene supplies, razors, shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, feminine supplies as well as some medicines," said Avi. "I put the basket of stuff upstairs, where the guests would be staying, so they wouldn't have to worry about this when they first arrive. To me, it was nothing special, but apparently, it meant a lot to them. Afterward, some of them came to me crying and saying thank you."

Avi says that she wanted to make her guests welcome and taken care of. "I wanted them to realize that they are not a burden to us, that we want to help in any way we can or at least ease some parts of the whole stressful situation."

One of the women staying at the pension, who spoke excellent English, shared her gratitude for the Perry family's hospitality on their first day. "We had a very long, stressful trip from Ukraine, we traveled for a total of four days. We came here, and Avi cooked dinner for us, it meant a lot," she said.

Taking a tour of the village the day after arrival. Photo: Avi Perry.
Taking a tour of the village the day after arrival. Photo: Avi Perry.

The trip was exhausting for everyone but especially for the elderly gentleman who was among the group. "He is about two meters tall, he has long arms and legs, he has huge blacksmith hands, and after four or five days in the car, he was crunched up into a ball," said Eli. "I didn't have any muscle relaxers to give to him, so I figured a bottle of beer will do."

Big family

Despite the language barrier, the families have gotten along quite well. In addition to a woman who speaks English and has helped facilitate communication between the Ukrainian guests and their hosts, one of the two elderly women staying with the Perry family also speaks a little English, which she learned by watching soap operas back in the day. "Others know a few words, and Google translator is our best friend," said Avi.

We have been really touched by how quickly our guests and we have become part of each other's lives," said Avi. "My youngest calls the elderly man 'dědeček' and the two women 'babičky.' It is great for the kids because they don't get to see their grandparents often."

Like many expats with a limited family support network, Avi told us that having people in the house has helped her recover from the aftermath of Covid isolation.

"A lot of my family back home in the states say it must be so difficult for you, it is a tough situation, you must be so stressed out," said Avi. "Actually, it has been pretty good for me. First of all, it is fulfilling, I am the kind of person who likes to take care of people. But honestly, having other people, other adults in the household is great because the Covid isolation has been really tough on me. And having other people here whom I can ask to watch my youngest for a couple of hours so I can run an errand and get something done, that right there is an enormous help. Any parent doing it without grandparents around will tell you it means more than anything."

Avi also noted how helpful all of her guests have been – some help around the house, some in the garden, and some watch after the kids. "It has been hard convincing them they don't have to do things for me, them just being here helps me," she said.

At the same time, everyone has their own lives here. For instance, one of the underage children, a 17-year-old boy, has already found a job in Prague and now works as a delivery person.

"The first night we got here, one of the women pulled me aside and asked where they should start looking for work," said Eli. But the woman noted that finding a job hasn't been easy, especially due to the language barrier.

Two middle children have already started at the local elementary school. "Having other kids around has been great to get our three-year-old socialized after the covid lockdown," noted Avi.

The kids playing at Maxikov in Černaku while the adults shop, back when everyone first arrived. Avi Perry
The kids playing at Maxikov in Černaku while the adults shop, back when everyone first arrived. Photo: Avi Perry

In Perry's multicultural pension, food has become a form of communication that transcends language and brings people together.

"They keep making us traditional borsch, and it is so good!" exclaims Avi, who had never tried the traditional Ukrainian soup before. "Everyone makes it a little bit different, it is so yummy."

"They also made these little pies – some with potatoes, some with meat, some with spiced apples," said Eli. "I could eat the ones with potatoes and garlic all day."

Having lived together for some time, the families have adopted their own little traditions. For instance, every Sunday everyone gets together for a big family dinner.

I definitely hope we will stay in touch when they go home. We consider them family now," said Avi.

Community support

As the Ukrainian families have been adjusting to the new reality, the local community rushed to help.

"When the folks got here, stuff started to mysteriously appear on our doorstep – clothing, shoes, food, art supplies for the kids, toys," said Eli. "One of my students donated a little hello kitty push bike."

"Our network in the village is very strong. Bean has some clothing that has gone through six kids just in the village," said Avi.

Not only has the local community been willing to help, but also Avi and Eli's friends and family in the US. "They sent money to pay for electricity in the first months. We also made a big trip to Ikea and a shopping mall; from all the received donations, we gave CZK 1500 to each person to buy whatever they need. Because most people came with a small suitcase of things they grabbed at the last second."

Ukrainian guests helping to clean the village during Ukliďme svět.
Ukrainian guests helping to clean the village during Ukliďme svět. Photo: Avi Perry

"We tapped into some of the organizations for some big things. One of the organizations put us up with a local business owner who helped us get another washing machine and some bicycles," said Avi.

To go or not to go? That is the question

For Eli Perry, the big question was not at all about opening their home to refugees. The question that kept him up at night was the decision of whether or not to join the war effort in Ukraine.

"The decision to not go to Ukraine was fairly difficult for me. I come from a military family, I have some of the skills necessary but not all – I don't speak any Ukrainian, I never served in the military myself."

"Avi told me that she would be inexpressibly proud of me if I have gone, but she is even more proud of me that I made the decision not to," said Eli. "I am forty years old, I am a father, and I have two children."

Eli said that the decision to stay was painful to a lot of people of his generation. "Especially those who went to Iraq, all came back incredibly disillusioned. And now they see a fight that's worth it," he said. "But they are like me: they have got families, they can't do that."

However, Eli does not give up plans of going to Ukraine. "I am in the process of putting together a group of people, mostly guys like me who couldn't go to war, to go and help with reconstruction. But so far, we will keep our doors open here until the walls burn down."

With summer season around the corner, what was once a tourist pension, will continue to operate as a temporary home for refugees.

Avi says she is still getting calls from people seeking refuge. "Now it has slowed down to one or two calls a week, for a while it was several a day," she said. "It breaks my heart. If we could take everyone, we would."

Would you like us to write about your business? Find out more