Morning Chronicle - Despair, hope as Ukrainian refugees arrive in Prague

London -


Despair, hope as Ukrainian refugees arrive in Prague
Despair, hope as Ukrainian refugees arrive in Prague

Despair, hope as Ukrainian refugees arrive in Prague

Ukrainian men with worried looks, weary women and restless children, many staring into the distance, wait patiently in the long queue as Czech volunteers call out instructions left and right.

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"We left everything there as they came and ruined our lives. They're bombing even civilian houses where there are kids, small kids, children, they die now," Svitlana Mostepanenko told AFP.

The young woman travelled to Prague from Mykolaiv, a southern Ukrainian town near the larger Black Sea port city of Kherson which the Russian military claimed to control on Wednesday.

"We had to leave our own city, our native town. They're bombing it," Mostepanenko added.

She and other refugees await their turn at Prague's foreigner registration centre, a drop in the sea of nearly 875,000 people who have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded last week.

The Czech Republic says it has so far welcomed around 20,000 Ukrainian refugees.

Some came on their own while others were brought via Poland and Slovakia -- which neighbour Ukraine -- by volunteers or trains sent by the Czech government.

- Sleeping bags, weapons -

The Czech Republic was already home to around 200,000 Ukrainians by the end of 2021, many of whom worked as construction workers, nurses or cleaners.

The onset of the Russian invasion has sparked a wave of solidarity in this country. Prague started offering free public transport to all Ukrainians and set up special information booths including at the main train station.

Local humanitarian organisations have collected more than 40 million euros ($44 million) for Ukraine and the sum keeps growing, the CTK news agency has reported.

On Sunday, around 70,000 people rallied in support of Ukraine in Prague's iconic Wenceslas Square, where student Jan Palach burnt himself to death in 1969, in the wake of the 1968 Soviet invasion of former Czechoslovakia.

On Tuesday, a big charity concert for Ukraine was held in the square where thousands of people had rallied as Czechoslovakia toppled the Soviet-steered communist rule in the so-called Velvet Revolution in 1989.

An EU and NATO member of 10.7 million people, the Czech Republic was also among the first countries to send weapons to Ukraine.

Many Czechs have driven to the border between Ukraine and Slovakia to deliver sleeping bags, medicine or food and bring back refugees.

- Temporary shelter? -

At the registration centre -- where a Red Cross crew is handing out fruit and water, plus sweets for children -- Mostepanenko said she was just expecting temporary shelter.

"We're hoping that it will be very soon like one week, two weeks that we will have an opportunity to come back to our native place," she said.

"We're not going to stay here for a long time, we have everything there, we have our houses, flats, we had jobs," she added.

Eliza Ignatyuk, who came by bus from Ukraine's Carpathian region on February 25, said she wanted "understanding and support" in Prague.

"I'm hoping the war will end and I'll go back home, that's what I really want."