‘I dream of canoeing on the Dnieper River’. One year has passed since Russia invaded Ukraine

Interwencyjna noclegownia, która działała do maja w R3. Fot. Deb Fong

It’s been a year already. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is also the anniversary of establishing the ‘Radziwiłłowska 3’ or ‘R3’ Help Point (named after a street name) run by the Salam Lab. During these 365 days, thousands of Ukrainians and refugees of other nationalities passed through this place, all fleeing the brutality of war, suffering, and death

This year, many Ukrainians had to start their lives all over again and find themselves a new home. Many of them found it with our help in R3. This year carries thousands of stories, those heard and those not yet told. We want to share some of them with you today.

Olena from Kharkiv, reception department

‘On February 22nd, 2023, my neighbourhood was bombed. I can’t stand hearing more about my friends and relatives not knowing where to run to hide from the falling bombs. What should I do? I didn’t know how to tell my son that his friend who used to skate with him was dead. How do you deliver such a message to your child? Many of my friends who were volunteers with me have now joined the army. I prefer not to think about what would happen if I stayed in Kharkiv.

I got to R3 thanks to the people I met on a Polish language course organized by Jagiellonian University. My mental state was very bad at the time. I call the people from the R3 angels. They are wonderful; they are the ones who made me stay here since my first visit. When I got a job here, I was thrilled. I’m glad that I can help. It is a difficult job, though. People who come to us are often in very bad condition, so it’s good that we have psychological support as employees. We are in this together, and if there is any problem, I can always count on help. Although many people come to us daily, we work like clockwork and complement each other like a mechanism.

Whenever there are bombings in my city, I try to work in order to avoid thinking about it. My team and I decided to spend the day together today, go out for a coffee and a walk. It will be a challenge for me. It’s a tough day; I don’t know how I will cope with all of this, especially since one can’t know what will happen the next day. I’ve been having nightmares for a month now. I would like to forgive the Russians, but so far, I can’t. I carry a lot of anger in me and I wish all of this would be over’.

Tetiana from Zaporizhzhia, coordinator of the relocation department

‘I call Radziwiłłowska Street the street of tears. That is where I cried. I came to Krakow on March 3rd, 2022, as a refugee. R3 was the first place I went to. I didn’t have a home. Thanks to Salam Lab, I got an apartment. Now I am an employee at R3.

What will I be doing on February 24th? First of all, I have to finish the work on the project of relocating Ukrainians who are fleeing the war to Germany. I have a deadline, but I think it’s good that I won’t have much time to reflect on what happened a year ago. I want to spend this day in peace, grateful to those defending Ukraine.

Nowadays, the shared dream of many people in the world is peace. I dream of canoeing on the Dnieper River in Zaporizhia as soon as possible. Dnieper, which will be free’.

Olga from Mykolaiv, short-term accommodation department

‘How will I spend this day? I feel inner restlessness. I don’t want to think about what will be shown in the media about what Putin will do on the anniversary; for some time, the media have been reporting that he has a plan for an increased attack. I’d rather go to work and take my mind off that date. Resting today can only strike negative thoughts in my mind.

My friend came to Krakow after February 24th. Her children have been working in Poland for a long time. They and their friends, also Poles, had the opportunity to volunteer during working hours, so they came to R3. They were the ones who recommended this place to me. »It’s cool. Look here; maybe you’ll like it« – they said.

R3 Help Point in February and March 2022

In R3, I found the support I needed. It’s full of open people who help each other. Thanks to them, I feel motivated to act. Helping others keeps me from worrying because I’m just keeping myself busy, busy with doing good. When I see what problems our beneficiaries face and what they need, I appreciate what I have. I am beginning to understand that my problems are not as significant as they could be; how would it all look if I were in a more difficult situation’.

Larysa from Dnipro, a volunteer in the housing department

‘I came to R3 by chance; I was passing by and saw the help desk. I had much free time and decided to use it to help others, I feel that it’s my duty. In R3 I meet great people here and I am glad that I can be among them and that I am needed.

On February 24th, I am going to an English course, apart from that I plan to spend time with my children. I dream, like probably everyone now, of Ukraine’s victory. I wish there would be peace’.

Iryna from Poltava, a volunteer at the reception desk

‘I left Ukraine on February 24th. I went to Poland for four days. The train journey made me lose 4 kilos. My two sons and my ex-husband’s parents were with me. My father is blind, so it was an arduous journey for us. Our guinea pig was also traveling with us. I was worried if everything would be alright with it. We were transporting it in a small box, and I was afraid it might get crushed. Fortunately, nothing happened to it.

I used to work in R3’s kitchen. When it was still a working shelter, about 100 people slept here daily. I prepared food for them, along with the other volunteers. It’s where I’ve met true friends. The community that the people of R3 create is like a family to me. I can’t imagine not coming here.

Shelter at R3 (no longer existing)

Today my son and I will attend all the events surrounding the anniversary. We will take Ukrainian flags with us. I dream of Ukraine’s victory; everything else is irrelevant now’.

Olga, Tatiana, Olena, Larysa and Iryna were interviewed by Solomiia Martyniuk and Ewelina Kaczmarczyk.

Translated by Aleksandra Leks.


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