Ruslan is a 14 year old Ukrainian boy. For the past eight years, he’s been spending his school holidays in Barcelona. When the war broke out, Ruslan was one of the dozens of kids that got on a bus to Poland. There, two vans were waiting to bring them to their host families in a safer country.
3,500 km later, Ruslan is discovering a new Spain. This time there is no fixed return date. Instead of enjoying hot holidays, he attends school classes and plays basketball in the afternoon, all while constantly checking on his mum, who, along with the youngest of Ruslan’s six siblings, is still in Nikopol, a city where the Russian soldiers have not yet entered. Ruslan’s youngest brother is just 4 month old.
Those who welcome
For the past 23 summers, the non-profit TANU has arranged temporary homes for children at risk of exclusion from Nikopol. Candi Criado works in the organisation finding host families, and she’s also Ruslan’s host mum.
Criado contacted host families in Catalonia to accommodate the kids. In total, the organisation has brought and welcomed 92 children to Terrassa and Barcelona. “When the conflict broke out, we decided not only to bring our kids,” says Criado, but also others who went to live with host families after their orphanage closed.
Ruslan spent last Christmas in Criado’s house after the programme was paused for two years. She says he was thrilled to come back, but “this time is different. This time, he constantly checks on his mum,” she says.
Criado feels Ruslan is “somewhere else sometimes.” Although he’s happy there, he’s thinking about what he’s left behind. “I tell him, ‘your mum is ok’,” she says, because “even though they have not seen much, they’ve heard the sirens, they’ve had to take shelter. And they’ve seen things on their way to Poland. It’s not hosting as usual.”
Those who stay
Those who stayed in Ukraine are also receiving help. Criado explains that the organisation has been collecting food since the rumours of war started. Back then, it was a plan in case the worst-case scenario became true: the kids could not leave. Now, they’re sending first aid products to their families.
Private foundations have contributed with funding, and the Catalonian government offered a centre to accommodate kids that did not find a temporary family. Terrassa City Council has also provided humanitarian aid resources for displaced families within the country and those sheltered in Nikopol due to the Donbas crisis since 2014.
The council also provides help on the ground through collaboration with Farmamundi, UNHCR and the Red Cross. For those interested in offering their contribution, the city of Terrassa has set up an online form that allows people to receive information about the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, offering options to cooperate and to stay updated on calls from other institutions.
Barcelona City Council approved €320,000 emergency aid for entities working in the war zone within Ukraine and, secondly, in those border countries that are particularly affected by the exodus of refugees. The municipality aims to create a humanitarian bridge with Ukraine. A website has been designed to channel financial aid to entities and NGOs and to report on material collection points set up by the Ukrainian community in the city.
Mayor of Terrassa Jordi Ballart joined the Mariupol Declaration against the war, together with three hundred mayors and representatives of metropolitan areas from all over Europe, as a sign of condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and to ask European governments and the European Commission to step up efforts to stop the war. Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona, also joined.
🕊️ Ens hem concentrat a #Terrassa per condemnar aquesta maleïda guerra d'Ucraïna i per solidaritzar-nos amb el poble ucraïnès que la pateix. Clamem ben fort que la pau i el diàleg són la solució davant dels conflictes i per cridar, per desgràcia un cop més, NO A LA GUERRA! pic.twitter.com/DU6OeqTbaL
— Jordi Ballart Pastor (@jordi_ballart) March 1, 2022
Those who arrive
This situation inevitably requires fast adaptation. According to Lluis Torrens, Director of Social Innovation at Barcelona municipality, the city hosts around 6,000 Ukrainian newcomers. That’s only a tiny part of the total that arrived in the city. In two months, 20,000 Ukrainian has been attended by the different municipal and state reception facilities. Many do so by train, plane or even driving their own cars, but their destinations may be other cities in the country, or Portugal.
Some Ukrainians, says Torrens, show up at the city council’s social services, which hosts a centre of urgencies and social emergencies open 24/7. From then on, the city faces fundamental challenges. Currently, almost 500 children have been enrolled in schools in Barcelona and 1,000 people (85% women and children) have been registered in the city as new residents.
“If 2,000 or 3,000 children appear, we have to send them to school, organise reception classrooms, etc. And there is great uncertainty about how long this will last. How many people will want to return to their country when we see cities destroyed on TV?”, wonders Torrens.
Indeed, in Criado’s house, they avoid watching the news. “Ruslan is still keeping an eye on what happens in Ukraine. We don’t watch the news because I don’t want him to see that they’re destroying the country,” she says.
Criado has been accommodating Ruslan for so long, that she considers him to be one more son. She says she is worried about him going back. The consulate will decide when, “but we all hope it’ll be after the conflict is over,” she says.
In total, 204 Ukrainians have settled in Terrassa, 90 adults (78 women and 12 men) and 98 minors (29 girls and 69 boys). To date, 56 children have successfully been registered in education institutions.
The City Council is in contact with the General Directorate of Migration, Refugees and Anti-Racism of the Generalitat de Catalunya to monitor the arrival of people from Ukraine. It is working to implement coverage of basic emergency needs such as accommodation and food. Terrassa also reinforces reception programmes for people requesting international protection and the emergency reception services established between the city and humanitarian organisations such as Apip-Acam and the Red Cross.