Stories from Ukraine #4: Iryna, Julia C, and Julia M

This article was developed by Joana Purves, Thomas Leroux, and Emma Santanach.

As part of the European project “Ukraine Now”, which brings attention to the situation of people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, we interviewed three women who now live in Greece: Iryna and Julia C., from Kyiv; and Julia M., from Donetsk. 

The three of them reside in the Serres site, one of the main camps where Ukrainian refugees in Greece are living. They shared with us their experiences of moving to a new country as a result of war, along with their first impressions of Greece. 

Following the outbreak of the conflict, Ukrainians looking for long-term accommodation in Greece are asked to submit a request to the dedicated platform of the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum. They are then provided accommodation, either in the facilities of Serres II, located in Northern Greece, or in Elefsina, located in the Attica region. Overnight, Iryna, Julia C., and Julia M. had to leave their country and start a new life in Serres. 

“The first days at the camp were not easy for me. I needed time to adapt and live in such a place, among strangers of different nationalities”, says Julia C. She credited the members of international organisations operating in the camp who made a difference for her, as they “provided psychological help and support, which made us feel that we were not alone in a foreign country”.

Serres camp was established in 2016 and has a capacity of 1,651 residents. Originally, it mainly hosted people from the Yazidi community, whose homeland was invaded by ISIS in 2014, as well as people who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Today, Iranian, Yemeni, and Ukrainian families also live there. 

“Life in the camp has its limitations, but I immediately felt a huge advantage”, explains Iryna, pointing out the useful services available to residents, such as Greek language courses. However, living in this state of emergency has had a persistent psychological effect on her son, who “can’t adjust to living in a foreign country”.

I still miss my home. But I try to live life where I am, I like Greece and its people.

Julia C.

 However, not all the challenges are within the camp. Julia C. also talked of the difficulties of navigating a new country in terms of communication and culture as well as bureaucratic hurdles such as opening a bank account or accessing healthcare. Although she lives in Greece, Julia C. still has a remote job in Ukraine and feels connected to her country: “I still miss my home. But I try to live life where I am, I like Greece and its people.” 

Julia M. and Iryna have also tried to make the most of living in the new country, appreciating its natural landscapes and food. “My son said he wants to live in Greece”, says Julia M., “The nature, sea, sun, and ancient buildings are all beautiful […] I’m happy that we live here. Greece gave us peace.” 

Ukraine Now aims to raise awareness across Europe about refugee movements after media coverage decreases, in order to develop new approaches to communication on migration and facilitate the inclusion of displaced people into local communities. It brings together four organisations at the European level: Mareena (Slovakia), ARCA (Romania), OCC (Greece), and OCC (Spain).

This project is co-funded by the European Union through Erasmus+.