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One year after the start of the invasion: life of Ukrainians in the Netherlands

Oekraïense vlag bij een kerk in het Gelderse Velp. Bron:

Friday, February 24, marks one year since Russian President Putin announced the invasion of Ukraine. The intense and sustained bombing and fighting has forced many Ukrainians to flee the country. About 90,000 Ukrainians are fled to the Netherlands. FMS interviewed Yana (29) - who lives with her family in Leusden - and Maria (24) - who lives in Utrecht - about their lives since the beginning of the invasion. Both are from the Kharkiv area.

A world before and after 24 February 2022

For almost all Ukrainians, there is a total difference between the world before and the world after 24 February 2022. So too for Maria: "I studied public administration in Kharkiv and had completed these studies just before the beginning of the invasion." Yana also states that life was quite normal before the war: "The children went to school and everything was fine."

The first weeks of the invasion were very difficult for Yana and her family. Yana was forced to spend two weeks in the Kharkiv metro, while her sister Irina had to stay with family in a small basement for weeks. Yana left Kharkiv on 7 March, before arriving in the Netherlands on 25 March. Maria too stayed in the metro first and took three to four days to arrive in the Netherlands.

Both Yana and Maria describe the trip as "shocking", especially since neither of them had been abroad before. However, Maria also retains fond memories of arriving in the Netherlands. "We were helped very well by people from the Red Cross. After just one night's sleep, we heard there was accommodation for us in Utrecht. That was very nice."

Stay in the Netherlands

Yana and Maria are both mostly positive about the reception in the Netherlands. "I am very grateful to the Netherlands and the Dutch for what they have done and for how we have been taken care of," said Maria. The Dutch are generally considered nice and helpful. Maria: "I notice that some Dutch colleagues do not follow the news and do not know exactly what is going on. On the contrary, most others know and ask a lot about it."

They also like life in the Netherlands - apart from the tension of the war - for the most part. They find that most things are well organised and are happy to be able to work as cleaners. However, Yana and her sister do find it difficult to access a doctor and medicine. There is no medical staff at their shelter and waiting times when making an appointment are very long.

"I find most of the Dutch very nice. I think the situation here is better than in other places, like Poland. I heard that from friends staying there," Maria said.

Contact with family and friends

Despite liking the Netherlands as far as circumstances go, living with the tension of war remains difficult, of course. Yana is still in close contact with people in Ukraine and follows the news about the war daily. "Our husbands are still in Ukraine because the borders remained closed to men. We also still phone a lot with friends and our old neighbours. Furthermore, we have a brother staying in the Czech Republic." She says she finds it scary and annoying that there is little she can do from the Netherlands. "We can only hope that the war is over as soon as possible."

Maria knows many people who fled to countries such as Poland, Germany and the UK, as well as those who stayed in Ukraine. She thinks about the war a lot and watches the news a lot. "Left-behind friends of mine have to help and fight at the front. That is very difficult." Furthermore, she was born in Donetsk - area now partly occupied by the Russian army - and it is difficult that her grandparents still live there. However, contact is still possible if her grandparents have internet.

After the war

Whether Yana and Maria will return to Ukraine when the war is over is not yet clear to both of them. Maria: "It depends on the situation in Ukraine at that time. I would like to help rebuild, though." Yana: "There must be housing after the war. Also, we are not sure if there will be enough jobs then."

In the end, Yana and Maria do know for sure that one day they want to return to their homeland. Maria dreams of starting her own business in Ukraine. "But that is difficult because of corruption. Before the invasion, however, President Zelensky was doing a good job fighting corruption." Yana: "We will definitely return."

Join the protest march for Ukraine on February 24!

On 24 February 2023, it will be one year since Russia invaded Ukraine. And fierce fighting is still going on in the country. Therefore, on this day, we want to make our voices heard. Out of solidarity with Ukrainians and dissatisfaction with Russian aggression.

That is why we will demonstrate en masse on 24 February. We will start with a protest march from Museumplein to Dam Square, where we will listen to several speakers. The more people join, the clearer our message will be. There will also be demonstrations in Utrecht and The Hague. See this page for more information.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons