'My war': Russian hosts Ukraine refugees in Prague

By: AFP
Published: 05:38 PM, 30 Apr, 2022
'My war': Russian hosts Ukraine refugees in Prague
Caption: Pavel Oskin, Russian-born photographer receives donations from an elderly Czech woman for Ukrainian refugees.
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Russian photographer Pavel Oskin is fighting President Vladimir Putin in his own way, opening his doors to Ukrainian refugees in the Czech capital and helping them get jobs to start life afresh.

Oskin enlisted some friends to help him convert a former Vietnamese shop in northern Prague slated for demolition into a refugee centre that is now home to 16 Ukrainians and can house dozens more. 

Sandwiched between a shabby supermarket and a casino, it has become a house of hope for people brutally uprooted from their country.

"I can shoot and I could go to war, but I will be more useful here," the 48-year-old tattooed Harley-Davidson rider told AFP.

"As long as (Russian President Vladimir) Putin keeps fighting, I will fight him this way... This is my war," he added, his phone ringing non-stop.

The landscape photographer, who travels the world teaching, left Russia for Prague in 2008. 

"My daughter was six and Putin was in power. I understood that there was no future there," he said.

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, he took to Facebook to raise around $20,000 (19,000 euros) for the housing project.

WiFi: Slava Ukrajine 

After the local House of Good organisation also chipped in with some funds, Oskin had enough to bankroll the renovation.

"We have two kitchens, 10 showers and 10 toilets," he says in the entrance hall where locals bring donated items including bikes and scooters for children.

The hall is divided into a playroom for children -- with table football and a climbing frame -- and a lounge area for adults.

The local WiFi network is Slava_Ukrajine (Glory to Ukraine), while the password is GerojamSlava! (Glory to Heroes).

Maiya Kiselevich, a refugee from Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odessa, spent a week on the road driving her two sons and her sister to Prague via Moldova, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.

"We are very grateful to everyone," she told AFP.

"When the rockets began to fall, it was terrible and it was really tough psychologically to resist so we decided to flee. It was especially tough for the children."

Tatiana is coming

One of some 300,000 Ukrainians who have found refuge in the Czech Republic since the invasion started, Kiselevich arrived on March 9 and stayed at another Prague facility before moving to the new premises this week.

"The children can play games in the playroom. Everything here is new -- the mattresses, the beds, everything for us to live a fully fledged life," she said.

Oskin, who has accommodated another 15 refugees with two cats and a dog in his studio, is now looking into ways to facilitate employment for the refugees.

"Their first question is not where they are going to stay, but what they are going to do," he said.

Kiselevich, who taught future hotel and restaurant workers in Ukraine, said she would do any job from distributing posters to cleaning.

"It is clear that we cannot live here for free forever... We're ready to work in exchange," she added.

Oskin has tasked the developers and designers who help him with his photo app to produce an app advertising Ukrainian workers to Czechs.

"It will work like Uber. It will be super easy for Czechs to arrange a cleaner," Oskin said.

"You'll type in the time and get a message saying 'Tatiana is coming', complete with a picture. These people have to live here somehow."

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.