While some of them go to work, those who are still looking for jobs take care of kids. They make a big shopping list once per week, and clean the premises together. And as soon as they are ready, they will leave the House for Independent Mothers and start their independent live in Poland.
Evenings and mornings are full of hustle and bustle. The house becomes quiet only during daytime, when children are at schools and kindergartens. It is the time for cleaning, washing, cooking and despairing. In fact, residents of the two-storey post-communist residential block in Jakubowizna near Grójec are always worried about something. They are anxious about their loved ones, struggling to get food in Ukraine, or fear that after the war they might find a rubble heap instead of their family homes.
Today the House for Independent Mothers near Grójec hosts 21 residents i.e. women and children who fled the war in Ukraine. Some of them stay here just for a short while. They treat the House as their shelter, a temporary respite before their further journey. Not all of them enjoy the countryside. – I like it here, but some women are not used to the peaceful village life. Back at home, I also used to go shopping at Zara or Victoria’s Secret, but this is no time to be fussy – says Alina, a 30-year-old kindergarten teacher from Ukraine, in English.
THREE DAYS WITHOUT FOOD
The House reminds her of her family home. Yet her parents and grandparents do not intend to leave Ukraine. Their town near Zaporizhzhya has been surrounded by the Russians, who are obstructing the supply of food and medicines. Alina shows me her familiar city corners via Telegram messaging service – Look, this is where the bombs were dropped, this is where all the windows are smashed, this is where we all used to go to shopping, all of that has been demolished – she scrolls through more and mor photos and videos. – Recently, my grandparents said they ate apples from the orchard because that was all that was left. I managed to send a big parcel to my parents. Then they managed to smuggle the food to my grandparents somehow” she adds.
Alina would probably stay in Zaporizhzhya herself, if it were not for her daughter, whom she raises as a single mum. Just half a year before the war broke out, she split up with the father of 6-year-old Polina and had to make a new life for herself in Zaporizhia. When the war broke out, she just wanted to protect Polina from the horrors of the war. As the two of them were hiding in the bomb shelter, she found it hard to explain to the girl what was really going on.
They arrived in Poland in early March with just one bag. Alina did not eat anything for three days. Whenever someone gave her some food, she just passed it on to her daughter. From the railway station in Warsaw they went to the PTAK Humanitarian Aid Centre. – I have just managed to stay there for three days – says Alina. She recalls that some of her compatriots were stealing money or phones from others and the volunteers did not know how to deal with such problem.
A friend of hers just let her know that there was a house for single mums just within an hour’s drive from Warsaw.
She could not stand it until morning, so she texted at 1.00 am. – When I saw Agata the next day, I immediately felt that she was a kind woman – she smiles widely, looking straight at Agata Dziopa, the house’s coordinator.
BORSCH AND BUTTERY BISCUITS
They would never have meet, if it had not been for the Western Station voluntary service. Agata distributed sandwiches, soup and water. Finally, she decided to take some unpaid holiday in order to reconcile her motherhood duties with helping refugees. Her friend Iwona joined her and they jointly decided to establish a home for the most vulnerable social group i.e. mothers and children fleeing the war, who had neither money, nor prospects, nor friends nor stood much chances to start an independent life in Poland. Next month Agata and Iwona started their cooperation with the Open Dialogue Foundation in order to ensure continuity of funding for the project which Agata is coordinating on behalf of the Foundation. Currently, there are two Independent Mums’ Homes, the one in Jakubowizna, and 100 sq.m. apartment at Al. Jerozolimskie in Warsaw. – Now I know that what I am doing makes sense – says Agata.
The House in Jakubowizna, externally coated with textured plaster, has got a rather old-fashioned interior. Its previous tenants were labourers. However, as soon as the locals learnt of its new inhabitants, they donated some furniture and clothes. Agata used to pay for the food before the Foundation took care of the project. One man brought some donations by car from as far as the United Kingdom.
Now the House smells of cleanliness, and the area around the kitchen is full of mixed aromas of borsch and butter cookies. The first Ukrainian mums and their kids moved in at the beginning of March. Some decoration works are now in progress on the ground floor, next to the garage. As soon as such works are completed, more mums can be accommodated in the building.
POLINA WANTS TO RETURN TO UKRAINE
Alina is showing me around the house. Two young schoolgirls are now doing their homework in the room with a bunk bed. Their mum is folding the clothes, and their grandma is busy in the kitchen. They all came here from the Donetsk region. On the balcony, a mother who escaped from Kharkiv just before the war, has just hung up her laundry. A four-year-old Bogdan is playing on a playground swing in front to the house. He is accompanied by his mum, who is carrying a six-month-old Sonia in her arms. Victoria is resting in the small orchard, as her two-month-old daughter has just fallen asleep. She named her Ksenia, which means “hospitality’ in Greek. Victoria has chosen such name to celebrate the kindness she received from the Poles. Her labour started just after getting off the train in Warsaw. She gave birth to a healthy girl at Praski Hospital and found her safe haven in Jakubowizna. – We are going to plant our own vegetable garden here. – says Alina – So it will look lovely when the summer comes. – Agata offered to paint our walls and change some of the furniture, but we declined her offer. Then this place would no longer look like a family home – Alina smiles broadly.
The residents themselves make sure that the house is clean and tidy. While some of them go to work, those who are still looking for jobs take care of kids. They make a big shopping list once per week. – They always choose chicken, grits and cottage cheese – recalls Agata.
Children are offered transport to schools and kindergartens, and learn Polish. – We also have some workshops with psychologists for children and their mothers, separately – explains Alina. Such assistance is a must, not only due to the specificity of the venue, but also in view of traumatic war-related experiences. – Whenever I talk with my parents [in Ukraine], Polina immediately starts to cry. She misses her grandparents, her room and toys. She does not understand that it is impossible right now. The same situation happens when she speaks with her dad – says Alina. She has deleted all photos from Ukraine on her phone, because they reminded Polina of her family home.
WE WON’T MAKE IT WITHOUT SUPPORT
The two Houses accommodate 30 residents: 11 mums, 3 grandmas and 16 children. – The idea behind our Houses for mothers is to help Ukrainian refugees become independent. We help them to find jobs so that they could achieve financial stability and start an independent life in Poland when they are ready to do so. – explains Agata Dziopa.
One of the Ukrainians commuted to Warsaw to work in a hotel, but this was too far away. She tries to find a new job somewhere nearby. Alina is currently not working anywhere. She needs to pick up some Polish first, and then, maybe, she will find a job which corresponds to her qualifications.
Marina, who is Alina’s and Polina’s roommate, has already managed to find a job. – It took me a month to settle all the formalities, but next week I will start a job which corresponds to my preferences and skills. I will work at a supermarket – says Marina, still smiling. Her husband has stayed in Ukraine, but she is sure that her daughter will be taken care by other residents of the House.
Although Agata repeats that all women are allowed to stay at the House as long as they need, she is nonetheless afraid that it might not be possible without support. – We keep on knocking at various doors, but still, we need to carry most of the burden ourselves. By far, we rely on our fundraising campaigns via zrzutka.pl and peoples’ kindness, at least when it comes to giving jobs to these women – explains Agata. The costs are substantial, as we need to spend ca. PLN 25 thousand for the maintenance of 21 people at our House, which makes ca. PLN 1200 per each resident. -These are all the costs of rent, utilities, food, language classes and psychological support. Every zloty brings us closer to our goal and can change the lives of refugee women, giving them the necessary time to gain independence. – says Agata.