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On the Costa del Sol. A.M.S.
From war to peace... and back again
Ukraine invasion: two years

From war to peace... and back again

The lives of four Ukrainian women changed dramatically two years ago after Russian troops poured over their country's border; they came to Spain in 2022, but two of them have gone back to war-torn Kyiv

Alekk M. Saanders

Saturday, 24 February 2024, 17:46

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The war in Ukraine forced millions of people to flee their homes, mostly women and children, as Ukrainian men were banned from leaving the country and conscripted into the army. Here are four women who found their temporary home on the Costa del Sol. We spoke to them some months after the war started and as the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine approaches, we contacted the women again to find out how they were getting on (on the Costa del Sol).

Back in Kyiv

Olga

Olga (r) with Artem and Oksana.
Olga (r) with Artem and Oksana.

In March 2022, Oksana Hryhorash, a Ukrainian living in Malaga, managed to bring her grandson Artem and his mother Olga from Poland (where they had been flown from Kyiv). Oksana was a volunteer, part of a rescue team from Spain. After arriving, Artem and Olga lived in the home of a Spanish family, as Oksana had no way to set up accommodation. A year later, Olga told SUR in English that her mother-in-law took care of all the expenses. They also received food aid once a week from the social service of the local town hall.

"It may not be much, but we are grateful for what we have. In such a situation, the most important thing is to have clear skies and sunshine over our heads. I am happy that in peaceful Malaga, Artem stopped crying when he saw men," said Olga in summer 2022.

In Malaga, Olga continued to work from home, just as she had done in Ukraine during the pandemic. She worked in sales for an Italian furniture company in Kyiv. Eventually, Olga and Artem were placed in a refugee hostel. However, by Christmas 2022, Olga and Artem had left Malaga for Kyiv.

"They have not been able to adapt in Spain. I did everything I could to make them comfortable here, but I fell ill and could not do more. Olga made the decision to return to Ukraine without warning me, so I didn't persuade her to stay in a safe place. She is now in the Ukrainian capital. I keep in touch with the six women I managed to bring from the Polish camp in Spain two years ago. They have also returned to Ukraine. Only the woman who has a disabled daughter stayed on the Costa del Sol, because she could not get better treatment for her in Ukraine," Oksana explained to SUR in English.

Back in Kyiv

Anya

Just after the war, Gennady, who had been living on the Costa del Sol for more than a decade, took all his relatives from Ukraine - his cousin Anya and her two children and two aunts. Gennady and his English partner accommodated them in their flat in Torremolinos.

“It is ok,” Gennady commented referring to the Ukrainian saying 'There was no harm in being cramped,' something like the English expression 'The more the merrier.'

Back then, Anya told SUR in English: "Shortly after our arrival, I was offered a flat in a private company. There is no washing machine there, so we do laundry at Gennady's house. Electricity is expensive, so we do our best to save energy and money. Such shortages make us even more creative, so the sewing machine is in constant use. I am waiting for a work permit. It is important that my daughter continues her education. I am glad that she has been accepted to a private English school in Torremolinos. We can't help but be grateful to all the people who help."

Last August, Anya decided to return to Kyiv, where her husband had stayed. She wanted her children to go to a Ukrainian school. In Kyiv, she opened a tailoring workshop. Her family's routine, like others in the Ukrainian capital, includes frequent air raids and escapes to a shelter, although it happens so often that they are just hiding in the bathroom in the flat.

Living in Malaga

Anna

Anna with her son and her granny.
Anna with her son and her granny.

Anna is originally from Vinnytsia and she used to live in Spain. In May 2022, together with her son and grandmother, she came to Spain again, but now as a refugee.

"On 7 March we fled to neighbouring Poland, thinking that the war would soon be over and we would return to Ukraine. My husband, father and younger brother are in the war. Two months later, on 5 May 2022, my son, my 80-year-old grandmother and I arrived in Spain to find asylum,” Anna told SUR in English in summer 2022.

They first stayed at Anna's in-laws' house in Casares. She stressed that they helped them a lot. On the Costa del Sol, she immediately got involved as a volunteer with a Spanish organisation, helping to organise humanitarian flights to Spain for refugees from Ukraine.

“I love Spain, I like the people, they are very kind. Now I am living in Malaga, taking care of my son and grandmother. So at the moment I can't work. The CEAR (Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado) programme helps us to pay the rent of the flat," Anna told SUR in English this February.

Living and working in Nerja

Inessa

Inessa and her daughter.
Inessa and her daughter.

Nerja is actively helping refugees from Ukraine thanks to the Red Cross and a local association. On 18 March 2022, a bus brought Ukrainian women with children to the town. Among them was Inessa and her daughter.

"Karlien, a local Belgian, became my support in Nerja. She helped me to find a place to live. Her mother started to take care of my daughter and among other things accompany her to school because I am already working in a local restaurant. Washing dishes is a new experience for me after working as a lawyer in Donetsk for many years,” Inessa told SUR in English in summer 2022.

I never imagined that the degree of solidarity could be so high. I would like to thank Peter very much for his help and his compassion

Inessa

“My daughter likes Nerja. Thanks to the psychologist, she feels much better and more comfortable in her new Spanish school. I would like to say thank you to all the people here, both Spanish and foreigners. I never imagined that the degree of solidarity could be so high. We feel at home," Inessa told SUR in English a year ago.

But now, in 2024, Inessa has changed both her home and workplace.

"I am working in a new restaurant where I got a higher position. I help the chef and prepare local salads. Now I'm living at Peter's place. This Englishman has a big heart, as we say in Ukraine. He showed empathy for the refugees from Ukraine from the very beginning of the war. He allowed a Ukrainian family to stay in his house. Now we all live together. I would like to thank him very much for his help and his compassion. Only the beauty of the souls of the people I have met here can rival the beauty of the Andalusian sunsets," she told SUR in English.

"My daughter is fitting in successfully. She speaks Spanish very well. In January this year I had to visit Ukraine. My mother was brought from a war zone (in Donetsk region occupying by Russians) to the centre of Ukraine. However, having managed to escape the shootings, she was only able to live for a few days in a quieter place. Her heart could not bear what had happened to her. This January I travelled to Ukraine to see her. The day after we met, she passed away,” Inessa said.

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