Conflicts & War

Fleeing war, Ukrainian refugees look for normal life in Belgium

By Julio Galvez

Brussels, Mar 10 (EFE).- From the comfort of her home in a town near Kyiv, to a nursing home turned refugee reception center in Brussels, the lives of Yulia Radchenko and her children were upended following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Radchenko arrived in Belgium with other Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children, and now they are waiting for authorities to assign them a residence in Brussels.

She tells Efe that she used to live in a town outside Kyiv and near the border with Belarus in a house built by her husband four years ago, where their daughter was born.

“Everything was fine,” Radchenko says during an interview, with her daughter sitting in her lap.

Although she and her children left Ukraine, her mother, husband, and mother-in-law decided to stay behind.

Radchenko’s journey of escape began a day after Russia invaded Ukraine, where they drove for 27 hours westward before staying for a couple of days with friends, then they continued their journey for another 26 hours through Europe to finally reach Belgium.

Despite escaping the conflict, she indicates that she wants to return home “as soon as possible”, but she says that she has “no other option” for the time being.

While she fights back her tears, Radchenko admits that she hoped that Russia would not invade her country until the very last moment, despite knowing that something horrible is going to happen after Russia’s recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.

As for Russian president Vladimir Putin, Radchenko says she wishes he could just “disappear.”

“How for so many years the Russian people could live with such a horrible leader, without being able to say anything, without being able to live freely,” Radchenko wonders.

Alexandra Murashko, who used to organize concerts at a children’s musical theater in the Ukrainian capital, has a similar opinion about Putin, whom she describes as “a dictator.”

“You can always go out and protest and say what you think in Ukraine. This was never possible in Russia over the past 20 years,” she tells Efe.

Murashko reminisces over her life back home and how she loved to “make children happy,” adding she never saw children cry so much as when they were made to take the evacuation bus to escape the war.

Murashko, whose son stayed back after joining the Territorial Defense Forces, says she decided to leave when the center of Kyiv had already been bombed and felt the shock waves in her house.

She explains that she came to Belgium after some of her Ukrainian students had moved there and advised her to do the same, stating that she would be happy to stay and work if she could find a job.

“I hope that the war ends soon, and if my family is still alive of course I would want to return,” Murashko continues.

While Radchenko and Murashko waited among others at the reception center, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium paid them a visit on Wednesday and chatted with some of the Ukrainian refugees.

The center’s director Bernard D’Hoore explains to Efe that out of the 98 refugees who arrived to the center from Sunday to Wednesday, 30 were already assigned to definitive homes.

D’Hoore says the center is big enough to accommodate 250 people and can be expanded to host 500 or 600.

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