Squeezed between a run-down supermarket and a casino in northern Prague, a former Vietnamese store set to be demolished has become a home of hope for Ukrainian refugees. And this on the initiative of a photographer of Russian origin.
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The latter, Pavel Oskine, asked some friends to help him transform this space into a place that now houses 16 Ukrainians and can accommodate dozens more.
“I can take pictures and I could go to war, but I will be more useful here,” the 48-year-old tattooed Harley-Davidson fan told AFP.
“As long as (Russian President Vladimir) keeps fighting Putin, I will fight him like this (…). This is my war,” he continues, his phone ringing non-stop.
This landscape photographer, who travels the world teaching his art, left Russia to settle in Prague in 2008.
“My daughter was six years old and Putin was already in power. I understood that there is no future there,” he says.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, he raised around $20,000 via Facebook for his project at the reception center.
After the local organization House of Good also made a contribution, Pavel Oskine had enough money to finance the renovation of the old shop.
“We have two kitchens, ten showers and ten toilets,” he says in the entrance hall, where residents of the Czech capital offer items, especially bicycles and scooters for children.
The lobby is divided into a kids’ playroom — with foosball and climbing equipment — and a lounge area for adults.
The local WiFi network is Slava_Ukrajine (Honor of Ukraine) while the password is GerojamSlava! (Honour to the heroes!), a classic patriotic formula.
Maia Kisselevitch, from Odessa in southern Ukraine, spent a week driving through Moldova, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia to bring her two sons and sister to Prague.
“We are all very grateful,” she told AFP.
“When the rockets started falling, it was terrifying and psychologically really hard to resist. So we decided to flee. It was particularly difficult for the children.
One of about 300,000 Ukrainians who have found refuge in the Czech Republic since the Russian invasion erupted on February 24, Maya Kisselevitch arrived there on March 9 and stayed in another settlement in the capital before departing this week settled in these new premises.
“Children can play in the playroom. Everything is new here, the mattresses, the beds, everything we need for a fulfilling life,” she says.
Pavel Oskine, who has 15 other refugees and two cats and a dog in his studio, is now looking for ways to find jobs for refugees.
“Their first question is not where they can stay, but what they are going to do,” he said.
Maïa Kisselevitch, who trained future employees in the hospitality and restaurant industry in Ukraine, makes sure she’s ready for any job, from distributing posters to cleaning.
“It is clear that we cannot live here forever in vain (…). We are willing to work in exchange.
Pavel Oskine has commissioned the developers and designers who help him with his photo app to produce another specifically designed to help these refugees in the local job market.
“It will work like Uber. For Czechs it will be super easy to find a cleaning lady.”
“You set the time and you get a message saying ‘Tatiana is coming’ along with a photo. These people have to live here one way or another,” concludes the photographer.