Being a parent on the road to safety
Liudmyla builds a new home for her son in the Czech Republic
Liudmyla and her five-year-old son Yegor used to live in a small town in the Lviv region, Ukraine with their large family. When the war started, Liudmyla decided to leave with her son Yegor, her sister, and her sister’s children.
"Until the very end, we did not believe that the war would escalate. But on 24 February, a friend of mine called me to tell me that it had indeed escalated," Liudmyla recalls.
"So that day, I woke Yegor up and told him that the war had started and that we had to leave because we were in danger. My sister and I took our children, a few essential belongings, and left. We crossed the border on foot. We waited for eight hours to cross with more than 1,000 other people. Children were afraid and crying."
Liudmyla spent the first month with Yegor in Warsaw, but later moved to Prague, Czech Republic to look for work and to find a place her son would feel safe.
"The first month in Poland was extremely difficult for Yegor, he was sick and had fever most of the time. He was afraid of being too close to the frontline. When we moved to the Czech Republic, he began to feel safer. He was able to make new friends, and his health improved."
Upon arrival in the Czech Republic, Liudmyla and Yegor got assistance from both Czech and Ukrainian volunteers. They stayed in a hotel just outside Prague, and after two months, they moved to an apartment. Liudmyla received more support for her son when she started a new job at Svitlo Community Center and enrolled him in Kampa Commmunity Centre, one of 67 early childhood development centres supported by UNICEF and in partnership with and Ministry of Labour and Social Affais (MoLSA). Over 2,000 children have already been supported through this partnership. Yegor joined an adaptation course, which he enjoyed a lot, thanks to the great teachers there.
With technical and financial support from UNICEF, Svitlo Community Center is a space offering mental health and education activities for children, youth and families from both the Czech Republic and Ukraine. They also provide advice and referrals to organizations that can provide more tailored support. An important part of the cooperation is a buddy programme where Czech children are paired with Ukrainian children to learn together.
But balancing work and caring for her son has proven challenging for Liudmyla. "Time management is a big challenge. In the morning I bring Yegor to the adaptation class, then I go to work. At noon, I pick him up and take him with me to work where he spends most of his time in Svitlo Community Center’s playroom. I try to spend as much time as possible with him. There are a lot of parks and playgrounds in Prague, which is great. My son's friends are mostly from Ukraine, but at the playground nobody cares where you are from, everyone plays together. Sometimes we go to the museum or find activities for children. His favorite activities are going to the zoo and to the swimming pool," Liudmyla says.
During the first year of the war, Liudmyla thought they would return to Ukraine, but as the conflict continues, they are preparing to live in the Czech Republic for longer. Yegor will start first grade in September and Ludmila is planning to study Czech together with him. "It’s not that hard for a child to learn Czech. But for us adults, it’s a little more difficult. Being able to help Yegor with his homework is a great motivation to learn Czech," says Liudmyla.
Despite the support and services that Liudmyla has found, living in a foreign country on her own has been challenging. Parents are trying to create a home for their children, many of whom have been through difficult and traumatic situations.
"Those who fled Ukraine are mostly mothers and children with no support from their husbands or grandparents, as they remained behind in Ukraine. For example, if a mum doesn't know what to do when her child gets sick, she has no family to turn to. Here in the Czech Republic, mothers from Ukraine support each other. Our landlords assist us a lot, and Svitlo Community Center helps too. Czech parents also discuss with parents from Ukraine on how to raise children."
Parents are central in providing the support, and sense of safety and security that children need during difficult times. Liudmyla believes that parents should talk openly with their children and not withdraw any information. "Yegor cried a lot when we fled Ukraine, but now he is better. He keeps asking when the war will end and when we will be able to return home. He misses his family. We don't know what to expect, whether we will live here or in Ukraine, what our children should learn and what language they should speak," says Liudmyla. "We need to give our children support and stability," Liudmyla concludes.