“My house is your house”: how Ukrainian refugees hosted by Spanish families live

Kateryna, Olga, Faig and Alisa with the dog from the foster home (Martina Putruele)
Kateryna, Olga, Faig and Alisa with the dog from the foster home (Martina Putruele)

(From Madrid, special envoy) Black clouds gather in the distance over the sky The Thorn and the drops begin to fall insolent on the windshield. Already in the Town Hall of this municipality in the Spanish province of Segovia, one hour from Madrid, Ester arrives with splashed hair and a warm smile.

She is one of the many Spaniards who, through the NGO Mensajeros de la Paz, welcomed Ukrainian families into their homes. “We do what we can. There are many in hospitals, many sick people came from Ukraine and even there is a hospitalized child who we do not know if he will survive. for us it was a host of reality”, acknowledges Infobae.

More than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began, and refugees find shelter in small communities across Europe. According to data from the Spanish Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, the number of Ukrainian refugees within the Spanish reception system is 12,000 people.

Together with her husband and her teenage children, Ester has opened her attic – “which is quite large, I have put a couple of beds, a coat rack and some other things to make them comfortable” – to a mother with a 7-year-old and an 11-year-old. “We have welcomed them until they have fixed a house in another town, one of those that some families have and that nobody used anymore. They offered them and they pay for electricity, water, heating.”

More than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began (Photo: Franco Fafasuli)
More than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began (Photo: Franco Fafasuli)

“It has been an experience that is not all rosy, due to the emotional situation of the family, things that I had not thought about. The 11-year-old boy looked at the world in a way… For a day and a half he still hadn’t smiled, but when he saw that we had packed his backpack for him to go to school he smiled. I remember it and I get emotional, because I scold my daughters who don’t want to go and this boy thought about school and saw himself having a normal childhood and life again. That it was still possible.”

He stops for a moment and as if he couldn’t stop himself he exclaims: “The woman came with a backpack that was big enough for a laptop. She had a life there like mine”.

And suddenly he remembers: “I have a Tik Tok in which I post funny videos of my dog, and we realized that she had been following me for a year because a video had made her laugh. Who would have thought that after a year this family that followed me through networks would end up in my house. How is destiny…”

The conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Igora Ukrainian who lives in El Espinar and who arrived in Spain in 2007. During this month he became a key figure among the villages in the area by acting as an interpreter between the locals and the refugees, and by passing every day of at least one Ukrainian family to help her do paperwork.

Igor and Ester lead the way to San Rafael, a nearby town where the house of Conchi and José Luis, two from Madrid over 70 years old who left the big city for a quiet life, and who now welcome a Ukrainian couple: Leonid, 66, and Nuri, 64.

“We don’t understand each other, so we don’t argue”

Leonid, Nurid, Conchi and José Luis (Martina Putruele)
Leonid, Nurid, Conchi and José Luis (Martina Putruele)

Nuri smiles calmly, on her feet she wears slippers with hearts. Conchi has similar ones, but with some penguins. In recent days they have become buddies and talk to a phone translation app. They communicate however they can. The other day Conchi cooked a paella that Nuri proudly shows on her cell phone; and another day it was her turn to delight her hosts with a dish from her homeland.

“We came from Kharkiv a week and a half ago”, says Loenid, while his wife shows a photo that she took in which you can see destruction in the neighborhood where she lived. She adds: “They were shelling very close. The house next door had a crater in the ground from a missile. We thought that a bomb was going to drop on our house and that we would not have time to leave, so we left. For days we were without heat, water or light. We lived in permanent fear”.

200 meters from where they lived, all the windows of a nine-story building were blown out. Some of his neighbors went out to buy bread and never came back: they died after being hit by a missile.

They never thought that they would have to make such a decision to leave Ukraine. “It was difficult but instant.”

Nuri and Leonid (Martina Putruele)
Nuri and Leonid (Martina Putruele)

The journey seemed eternal. “We traveled by train 24 hours to Warsaw. We were standing and crowded for a long time, that’s why we didn’t take luggage, because they told us that it wasn’t going to enter. Then we took a plane to Spain, it was a three-hour flight. And finally we got here, where we are very comfortable.

Gone are her son, her 7-month pregnant daughter-in-law, and her other little grandson.”, Igor translates for us. “They are afraid to leave because of the risk involved in leaving the country in these conditions.”

Nuri breaks down at various points in the conversation and Leonid comes to her rescue, but he soon gets emotional too: “I want to tell my Ukrainian brothers who are still there that they have to continue to have strength; we are very worried about you”.

“We just want everything to end quickly, without so many victims,” Nuri cries out, and Leonid intercedes: “Russia used to say that we are the same Homeland; now there is no return: we are separated forever. This is an extermination. They kill and kill people.”

Nuri communicates through the translation app (Martina Putruele)
Nuri communicates through the translation app (Martina Putruele)

At first they did not know where they were going to live, or what their life was going to be like in Spain, but they soon understood that with Conchi and José Luis they had found the calm they were looking for. They have been married for about 50 years. “And another 7 boyfriends,” she clarifies, and she adjusts her husband’s sweater so that it looks good in her photos.

“Well, we found out through a friend that they were asking if there were people available to take in and we no longer have our children living here, we said, we can,” says Conchi and José Luis Sum, seeing his wife beginning to cry: “Our children told us to go ahead and count on them for whatever we need. The reality is that we get along well with Nuri and Leonid. We don’t understand each other, so we don’t argue,” she jokes.

“We want them to be able to see their family again, to be at home. Let the war be over and they can be in peace. If it happens to them, what prevents it from happening to us?

“When the bombs sounded, I told my daughter that it was a storm or fireworks”

Little Alisa plays with Lau
Little Alisa plays with Lau

A girl plays on the grass. She picks up a deflated blue, red, and white ball and tosses it a few inches. A female dog who goes by the name of “Lau” grabs her with her teeth and puts her at her feet to be pulled again. The girl laughs and laughs.

Los Angeles de San Rafael is another town in the same municipality. Kateryna is there with her daughter Olga, her son-in-law Faig and their little girl, Alisa, only 3 years old. They arrived in Spain from kyiv on March 12. A family that lives in Madrid has given them their summer home and has left Lau as their company. As with Nuri and Leonid, katherine He explains that the decision to leave “was quick but very difficult.” “I had no doubts that I was going to go anywhere to accompany my daughter and granddaughter.”

“In kyiv there are not many victims yet but there is a lot of rubble. We don’t know how our house will be when we return. We don’t know if it will continue to exist.”

The whole family (Martina Putruele)
The whole family (Martina Putruele)

Olga She is a school teacher and says that the worst part of the trip was seeing her daughter suffer: “It was very difficult for her physically and emotionally. He had no appetite, he did not eat. I notice a change in her, she is more closed, she was always more extroverted and now she is not.”, he says while caressing her cheeks.

Remember the hardest moments, when Alisa heard the explosions and trembled “He was running away. Windows were breaking and she wondered what was going on. I had to tell her it was a storm or fireworks because she couldn’t explain what the sound of the bombs was.”.

Her husband, Faig, is ex-military. “I lived through a war in Azerbaijan. I know what war is like but I did not imagine this in Ukraine. Putin is destroying the country. He does not enter my head ”.

"We were surprised and moved by such generosity.  This house has a large green space for the girl to play" (Martina Putruele)
“We were surprised and moved by such generosity. This house has a large green space for the girl to play” (Martina Putruele)

They spent three days in a refugee center in Warsaw. “It was not a good place,” says Faig. “You couldn’t sleep, although the food was good. We decided to come to Spain because the climate is milder, it’s not so cold and it was better for the girl. “We took a plane and the truth is that we did not know what we would find. We were surprised and moved by such generosity. This house has a large green space for the girl to play. We can’t believe it.”

But soon his face darkens: “I think the war is going to go to Europe. It’s not going to stop with Ukraine. That is why the world has to think well. “Everyone has to realize that this guy is insane,” Igor translates. They look at each other and nod.

On the doorstep of the house, the family of four poses for a photo. The dog comes running. Right now, they are a crowd.

Photos: Martina Putruele

KEEP READING:

Warsaw, open city: how the Polish capital became one of the heroes of this war
Scenes from a refugee center: this is how Ukrainians who escaped the war live
“Even if you have never heard the sound of the bombs, you recognize it instantly”
A film director and his most humane project: a private flight from Poland to Italy to rescue hundreds of Ukrainian refugees
“We escaped, but we left incomplete: our whole lives remained in Ukraine”
The testimony of a Ukrainian refugee in Poland: “I help as I can but I also feel empty inside”
How Ukrainian refugees fleeing Putin’s invasion are received in Rome

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About Alex Marcell

He likes dogs, pizza and popcorn. Already a fanboy of Nintendo and Sony, but today throws anything. He has collaborated on sites and magazines such as GameBlast, Nintendo World, Hero and Portal Pop, but today is dedicated exclusively to Spark Chronicles.

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