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Finding shelter in Catalonia after traveling for days from Ukraine

Friends and family take in refugees fleeing war with children

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17 March 2022 07:00 AM

by

Gerard Escaich Folch | Barcelona

Over 3,000,000 Ukrainians have had to flee the war in their country, becoming refugees across Europe. Up to 6,000 of them have arrived in Catalonia after traveling for days. 

Alexandra, who with her two daughters is currently living in a hostel run by the Catalan government in the city of El Prat de Llobregat, near Barcelona, is one of them. 

"On March 1, we crossed the Slovakian border and we got the train in the city of Košice to the capital, Bratislava. The girls and I traveled across Europe only by train for five days," she told Catalan News. 

She then decided to come to Catalonia as one of her childhood friends is based in Rubí, a town near the Catalan capital.

"Alexandra called me and said: ‘Irina, we are lucky and can now escape by train’," Irina explained to Catalan News. Her husband and her "picked them up in Barcelona, took them home, and spoke with the authorities to see what was the next step for people to stay here," she added. 

Irina is one of the 25,000 Ukrainians residing in Catalonia, and she has been living in Rubí for over a year, despite moving to Spain in 2006. 

Meanwhile, Alexandra came from the town of Zaporizhzhia, home to one of Europe's largest nuclear power plants and the site of battles that had the world on edge,  over a week ago. She wants to stay with her daughters and start their "life after the Ukrainian war." 

However, her husband had to stay in Ukraine with his parents hiding underground because they have daily shootings next to their home city. Currently, men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave the country. 

"They are really scared to be in a similar situation to Kharkiv or Kyiv, they are scared that our city is going to be bombed," Alexandra said.

Alexandra was able to travel with her two daughters to Catalonia, but over 150 children have arrived without a legal guardian

Their future is somewhere else but not one of the hostels the Catalan government has set up since the first day of the invasion to house Ukrainians who cannot return home."Maybe a shared flat in Catalonia," Rafael, Irina’s husband, told Catalan News. 

Before being moving into the hostel near the Barcelona airport, Rafael and Irina welcomed the two girls and Alexandra into their home. 

"I could not see them sleeping on the couch any longer," Rafael said.  

There are volunteers at the hostel that have helped the family "a lot," especially Alexandra’s children who "are not that aware of what is going on" and they help them psychologically, she told this media outlet. 

While Alexandra only speaks Ukrainian, Irina is fluent in Spanish and explains that part of her family is still in Berdiansk, near the Azov sea and the besieged city of Mariupol. 

"My mother lives in the city where there is not enough food for the 170,000 residents. Right now, there are soldiers nearby but so far they have not been bombing the city as there are only civilians," Irina said. 

Since the first day, Irina and her husband have been helping collect donations to be sent to Ukraine at one of the many humanitarian aid points in Catalonia. But, she admits, it is complicated to deliver the products to those in need. 

"I was speaking to my mother and my friends in Berdiansk, and they say that humanitarian aid is currently halted across Ukraine and cannot reach the cities. We are just waiting for a miracle to happen," Irina said. 

Both Alexandra and Irina thank countries that have shown their support and organized humanitarian aid collection points. 

And while Irina hopes her mother will be able to leave the city soon, Alexandra wants to return to her home country. 

"We would like to return, but we don’t know what will happen in Ukraine, we don’t know when the war will end," Alexandra said. 

For the time being, her children will need to be in school as they "have not finished their studies," while Alexandra will probably need to look for a job, "if the war goes on for a long time," she added.

Large site for Ukrainian refugees

Ukrainian refugees arriving in Catalonia will first be welcomed at a center that will be set up at the Fira de Barcelona exhibition hall, as confirmed by the Spanish migration minister, José Luis Escrivá, on Monday.

The same pavilion lodged vulnerable people during the toughest months of the Covid-19 lockdown and will start providing refugees with information from Friday.

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  • Irina and Alexandra paint the Ukrainian flag in Alberg Centre Esplai hostel in El Prat on March 14, 2022 (by Gerard Escaich Folch)

  • Irina and Alexandra paint the Ukrainian flag in Alberg Centre Esplai hostel in El Prat on March 14, 2022 (by Gerard Escaich Folch)

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