“Their Light Brightened Darkness Above our Heads,” says Ukrainian Refugee
One month after Olga arrived in Siedlce, Poland, she felt “at home” among the Polish people who took her in after her country was attacked in March. Since then, she’s become a translator for Global Volunteers, and looks forward to many new opportunities to help other refugees. “I feel I have always been brave, and now I think I’m stronger. The decision to leave was spontaneous. Now, I’m trying to think about the positive perspective,” she says. Read more of Olga’s story here.
By Olga, Ukrainian refugee and Global Volunteers translator
I come from the town of Berdychev, a small but very historical place in Northern Ukraine. My sister and I left our home where my father remains along with many of my relatives and friends. My cousin and her family moved from Kiev to my house. It’s a bit calmer there in Berdychev at the moment. We message each other quite frequently, and also have video calls. But it’s hard to share some happy moments with them, because sometimes the news in Ukraine is sad. You need to choose the right moment to share.
We arrived in Poland on the 7th of March. It took us 24 hours on a bus to Warsaw from Berdychev. As the boarder was very busy back then, we waited for five hours in a queue to enter the country. Some people had traveled for days, so we considered ourselves lucky to have arrived in just one day. When we arrived in Siedlce, where my niece is studying at the university, we were exhausted after waiting and traveling, and slept for days afterwards in the student dorm my niece’s professor arranged for us. The first few weeks were very hard; starting life from zero point. Starting a new life can be very challenging. Even simple things that were available there in Ukraine, like privacy, is a privilege now. Some groups of moms are cooped up together in one space. It takes time and patience to adjust to new a reality.
“Starting Over” in Poland
Working with Global Volunteers and learning the Polish language are my main goals at the moment. I was a freelance translator and English tutor in Ukraine, and my sister taught Polish language. Friends of my friends introduced me to Global Volunteers in Siedlce. Polish people are very helpful. They value you as individual and try to find the job that suits your personality; something that you really like to do. I consider myself as a lucky person to be able to work with Global Volunteers. This job saved me from deep depression and the constant anxiety so I could get back to normal life. I keep myself busy; the busier the better. Now I wake up less in the middle of the night, and don’t constantly check on the news.
I provide translation for moms and volunteers to help them better understand each other and feel comfortable – helping with written translation, teaching Ukrainian language and the like. Moms can enjoy their free time without kids and communicate with volunteers. It feels nice to be helpful, especially to fellow citizens. The most important help we give is psychological support. To know the volunteers care about us, that there are no boundaries, that is the best. Seeing volunteers helping Ukrainian moms and children really warms your heart up – seeing them smile and distracted from the horror in Ukraine. What can I say about the volunteers? They are wonderful people. It’s my first experience of meeting American citizens, because I’d only seen them before on YouTube or in movies. They are so determined, strong and hard-working. I have never met so many interesting, good-hearted people in my life. Their light brightened darkness above our heads.
It’s always heartbreaking to hear about refugees leaving their houses and how homesick they are – for instance, a grandma and grandchild who escaped occupation in Kharkov and left the mother of the child and other relatives. Another refugee woman told me her flat was searched by Russian soldiers, and her husband is injured in a Ukrainian hospital. And let’s not forger people in other countries who are helping and sacrificing their space and time to support Ukrainians. This help will not be forgotten.
Personally, I have become braver, and I’m trying to live my life without fear now – for today. You really value what you have, and are grateful for friends that helped you go through hard times.
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