Meet the Ukrainian family that found refuge in Prague’s Russian community

By Reuters

Ukrainian refugee Yulia Sarycheva lives in a house with Russian family in Prague
Yulia Fedulova from Russia and her daughter Sofi,10, speak with a Ukrainian refugee Yulia Sarycheva and her sons Sergey, 15, Sava, 12, and Serafin, 8, as the Russian invasion continues, inside Fedulova's house in Prague, Czech Republic, March 30, 2022. REUTERS/David W Cerny
Yulia Sarycheva and her family are some of the many Ukrainian refugees who have found safety in the Russian community of Prague. 

A month after fleeing her home in central Ukraine with her three sons, Yulia Sarycheva is sharing a pot of tea with a pair of artists who are putting them up in their home in an old Prague suburb.

The fact their hosts Peter Bankov and his wife Yulia Fedulova are Russians makes no difference to the 41-year-old from the city of Dnipro.

“I understand this is a political situation. It does not apply to people,” Sarycheva said.

Sarycheva and her sons are among the 4.2 million people estimated by the United Nations to have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24.

Ukrainian refugee Yulia Sarycheva lives in a house with Russian family in Prague
Peter Bankov, a Russian citizen who was born in Belarus and worked professionally in Russia, hugs a Ukrainian refugee Yulia Sarycheva inside his house, as the Russian invasion continues, in Prague, Czech Republic, March 30, 2022. Picture taken March 30, 2022. REUTERS/David W Cerny

The majority have gone to Poland but around 300,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the Czech Republic, another Slavic-speaking nation home to sizeable Ukrainian and Russian communities.

Bankov, 52, said it felt natural to help partly because his mother’s Jewish family was once uprooted too, only in their case by Nazi Germany. “Many years ago my family were like refugees,” he said.

How Russians in Prague are supporting Ukrainians

Around 45,000 Russians live in the Czech Republic, according to the Interior Ministry, and among them Bankov and Fedulova are not alone in supporting Ukrainians.

On March 26, thousands of people took part in a march organised by Russians in Prague to protest against the invasion.

Several protesters told Reuters that they or others in the community were helping Ukrainian refugees. They declined to be interviewed.

Russia says its “special military operation” in Ukraine is aimed at demilitarising and “denazifying” its neighbour. Ukraine and the West say the invasion was illegal and unjustified.

Bankov and Fedulova took in Sarycheva and her sons Serafin, 8, Sava, 12, and Sergey, 15, after an appeal from Fedulova’s church in Prague.

Ukrainian refugee Yulia Sarycheva lives in a house with Russian family in Prague
Ukrainian refugee Yulia Sarycheva draws a picture inside the house of a Russian family, after fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Prague, Czech Republic, March 30, 2022. Picture taken March 30, 2022. REUTERS/David W Cerny

After the family left their home in Dnipro, they headed first by train to the western city of Lviv. Sarycheva’s husband Anton stayed behind.

Some of the other Ukrainian refugees on the train, which rode westward through the night with all its lights turned off, were people from Volnovakha, one of the most destroyed cities in the conflict.

“Many had nowhere to return already,” Sarycheva said.

From Lviv, she and her sons crossed the border into Poland, where volunteers met the family with hugs and gave them soup and toys.

“I just cried… it was some kind of shock,” Sarycheva said. “I didn’t want to feel like a refugee at all.”

Eventually a Polish volunteer drove them to Prague where the three boys and Sarycheva, who is also an artist like her hosts, have been staying in a small guest house squeezed onto the Russian couple’s property.

“I have such nightly (moments) of gratitude for the fact that I got to know Peter and Yulia,” Sarycheva said.

“I have no idea how this story will end,” she added. “I just take everything as a gift from God.”

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