Prague's expat community offers shelter and hope to Ukrainian refugees

We spoke to several expat hosts about the challenges – but mostly joys – of lending a helping hand in times of crisis.

Kathrin Yaromich

Written by Kathrin Yaromich Published on 07.03.2022 16:00:00 (updated on 09.03.2022) Reading time: 7 minutes

As millions of Ukrainians leave their homes, fearful of the threat of Russian invasion, members of the Prague expat community have welcomed displaced people into their homes.

While the Czech government continues its efforts to aid Ukraine and accommodate the incoming refugees, the local community has also shown tremendous solidarity and hospitality. Dozens of initiatives have spurred collecting and distributing humanitarian aid, picking up refugees from the border, and offering accommodation. 

Prague expats have offered spare rooms or vacant properties to house displaced people from Ukraine. We talked with some of them to find out what their experience has been like so far.

Laura: "When I saw him at the center, he was shaking"

Laura de Blois was looking for a way to help when she came across an ad from the NGO Ukrainian European Perspective. "I immediately sent a message that I am ready to host," Laura tells us. "I was really nervous at first. I am an English teacher, I am a single mom, and I have a small flat."

By Sunday, Laura had already finished hosting a woman with her 9-year-old daughter and came to a help center to offer her space once again. At the same time, 17-year-old Illia was arriving at the center after his exhausting journey from Odessa to Chisinau and then to Prague. 

"When I saw him at the center, he was shaking," Laura recalls. "It took us a long time to figure out the logistics, but in the end, he came home with me." 

Brought together at the center by fate, Laura and Illia have gotten along from the very first moments they met. "Hosting Illia is the best thing that ever happened to me. It changed my life," says Laura.

Laura and 17-year-old Illia. Photo: Author

On an early Thursday morning, February 24, Illia was woken up by a loud noise. "I first thought it was a robbery, that someone broke into our house," says Illia. "I couldn't sleep for a while and then heard the noise again. I started checking my phone and saw the news: everyone was posting that Putin started a war."

Illia's parents insisted he should leave. "I took my passport and a couple of dollars and headed to the border," says Illia. "When I was in Moldova for a couple of days, volunteers were very helpful. Some people there even bought me a ticket to Prague". 

"I was shocked and nervous, I didn't know where I was going. But I thought it could be a good opportunity to come to Prague, the center of Europe, and then figure out what I ought to do next." 

The long journey has led Illia to Laura's house. "I feel home here," he says. 

Laura's home
Laura and Illia at home in her Prague flat. Also pictured, Laura's niece, Tara. Photo: Author

"I tell him to feel free to do anything he would otherwise do at home, like, just go to the fridge and take whatever you want," says Laura.

"I know what it's like to lose everything," says the New Orleans native. "My mom experienced Hurricane Katrina."

Laura believes that in situations of such great distress, people should try to do everything in their power to make those affected less traumatized. "I keep telling Illia 'You are safe now, you are safe now, you are safe now.' Although it obviously still hasn't settled into his body."

Asked about her overall impression after a week of hosting displaced people, Laura says: "I feel blessed and privileged, it is one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. If it could be this powerful for me, I can imagine it could be a really good and positive experience for anybody".

She urges the people of Prague to simply walk into one of the help centers and ask what can they do to help. "It could be sorting the physical donations, hosting displaced people, or finding creative solutions to spreading the word," notes Laura.

"Czechs have been so good in organizing this massive coordinated response," notes Laura. "I think partly it is because of their emotional connection to the history and profound understanding of what it is like to be a victim of Kremlin's aggression."

Anna: "My daughter is already calling her '​​babička'"

Anna Loginova from Moscow has been a long-time resident of Prague. Unable to stand aside in the face of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine, she contacted her friends in Germany who were organizing assistance for refugees. They put her in touch with two women fleeing Kyiv, and now they, Anna and her 3-year-old daughter are living together. 

Anna says that initially a family of four generations of women - a great grandmother, a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter - left Kyiv altogether. But the mother and her daughter decided to stay with the people who were driving them from the Slovak border while the great-grandmother and the grandmother found their new home with Anna in Prague.

Photo: Anna Loginova is hosting two women from a four-generation refugee group staying in Prague.

"The women are at a complete loss. They left Kyiv at 2 p.m. on Thursday, entirely unprepared. It took them 2 days to get to the border. All their decisions were impulsive, they had no idea where they were going and what the plan is," says Anna. "The only wish they have had since then is to return home."

Despite the obvious shock and perplexity that Anna's guests have been going through, the women have been getting along quite well.

At first, there was an element of confusion between us since we did not know each other at all. Actually, to this day, I still don't know their surnames. But the more we talk, the better it gets. For instance, yesterday we were having dinner together, having some wine to ease the stress, and talking. As women, we have a lot of common topics."

Anna admits that having someone to speak with positively reflects also on her own mental state. "I imagine that I could have been sitting there all by myself. I would just read more news and overthink. But together we can be there for each other," she says.

"My daughter is already calling the elder woman '​​babička'," says Anna smilingly. "She is really happy she found herself a grandma as she, unfortunately, doesn't have any."

  • Since the beginning of the military offensive ordered by the Russian president, more than 1.5 million have fled Ukraine into neighboring European countries.
  • The Czech Republic declared a 30-day state of emergency on Friday to assist Ukrainian refugees coming to the Czech Republic.
  • Around 100,000 refugees from Ukraine have already arrived in the Czech Republic as a result of Russia's invasion, according to Czech Interior Ministry.
  • 11,851 refugees have been registered at the Prague Center for Ukrainian Refugees at the Congress Center in Vyšehrad.

"When I told my sons that I was going to host Ukrainian women, they asked me, 'how would you tell them you are Russian?' " says Anna. "But that did not even come up as an issue. In fact, they were happy I speak Russian because they are from Kyiv and for a large part of the population there, Russian is their first language."

"There wasn't a moment when we had differing views on the situation. We have a common understanding that this is a great tragedy for Ukraine and that it is the fault of Putin and his gang, not the Russian people."

A part of Anna's family lives in Russia. "I realize that they will soon suffer the consequences of Putin's aggression and end up in complete international isolation," she says. "When we were discussing the Ukraine situation before the invasion, I would always say he would not start a war: 'Putin is a bastard but he is not an idiot'. Turns out he is also an idiot."

"Every morning we wake up with the hope that we will open the news and the nightmare is over," says Anna.

Kerry: "It's just like having a friend to visit"

Kerry Hudson is another Prague expat who has been at the frontlines of responding to the crisis. Apart from offering accommodation, she also held a fundraiser for supplies for displaced Nigerians and Ghanaians from Ukraine arriving in Prague.

Kerry's current guest arrived in Prague from Kyiv. "She has been such a pleasure to host. My son is 16 months and he is delighted to have a new friend in the house," she says.

Kerry notes that everyone in Prague has been astounding in stepping up in their efforts to help. Her guest, too, has been touched by the response across Prague as people pitched in to ensure she has clothes and other support. She is a massage therapist, and someone gave her a massage table.

Kerry's son
Kerry's 16-month-old son pitches in with the aid effort. Photo: Kerry Hudson

"It is just like having a friend to visit," says Kerry when asked how it feels to have a new person in the house. "Before she arrived, we had no experience hosting displaced people even though I have experience working with refugees. We just thought about what we would want if we had come from a very difficult situation. Expecting her, we put pajamas, warm socks, and some chocolate on her bed."

"I am 42 years old, she is 43 years old, so we are the same age," says Kerry. "I think what we are developing is essentially a friendship. So I treat her like a friend who is visiting and who has been through something terrible".

Kerry Hudson
Kerry Hudson (far right) held a fundraiser for supplies for displaced Nigerians and Ghanaians from Ukraine arriving in Prague. Photo: Kerry Hudson

Kerry describes the impulse to offer the space you have to someone who doesn't have a home as something instinctual. "It is not that complicated or stressful but rather worthwhile doing," she says.

Resources for offering housing assistance to Ukrainian refugees

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