It is 6 a.m. and the sun has barely risen in the sky. Yet, Liza is already at the bakery she works for in Prague, getting ready for another full day of work. She finally finishes at around 3 p.m. and comes home exhausted. But her day is not over. Although all she wants to do now is rest, she still has her university coursework waiting for her. Since she works during the day, she cannot attend her university’s online classes. Yet, she still tries to keep pace with her course load by doing her homework or finishing her course projects.
This has been Liza’s daily routine since she and her mother started their new life in Prague. Her mother is also working part-time to support the two of them. However, reaching a level of normalcy since their arrival has not been easy.
The very first thing they had to tackle after getting their visa permit was finding a place to live. In the initial days after their arrival in Prague, they stayed in a hotel room arranged by the relatives of the family friend whose wife and child they had traveled with. However, naturally, this was not a long-term option and they had to find their own accommodations as soon as possible.
Yet, finding affordable accommodations turned out to be a challenge. While they were offered help from volunteer groups and real estate agents alike, the options available to them were extremely expensive. It was only through the efforts of a coworker at the bakery Liza works at that they found an affordable basement apartment in a nice part of the city. After a long period of searching hopelessly for a place, Liza’s coworker had managed to find them good accommodations within a day through her online connections. Liza thanked her lucky stars. She and her mother have lived there ever since.
In fact, Liza's ability to find her current job is another instance of grassroots aid powered by the digital age. Finding a job had been a challenge when she had first arrived in the city. The Czech Republic is hosting almost 400,000 Ukrainian refugees to date, and Prague has reportedly received almost four times the number of refugees as other regions in the Czech Republic. There was and still is a high demand for jobs amongst the refugees. In fact, the city is currently struggling to accommodate the large influx of people and has had to close its refugee centers until a more equitable regional refugee management system is developed. And so, hard pressed to find a job, it was Liza’s passion for baking, the assistance of a veritable stranger, and online grassroots connections that helped her secure work.
Last autumn, Liza participated in an international baking competition. Through that, she had become part of an online chat group that spanned numerous countries. When someone messaged in the group offering to provide assistance to those in Prague, Liza immediately contacted her saying that she was looking for a job. This person posted about Liza on her Instagram and in the typical fashion of instantaneous digital connections, Liza’s current workplace contacted her about a position as a baker. Liza finally had a job to support herself and her mother.
Besides providing an income, this job also provides Liza with a daily routine that allows her to step away from the vicious cycle of endless news about the Russian invasion. Her hours at the bakery are long, but it allows her to stay present and in the moment, doing what she loves.
Liza is slowly settling into her new life in Prague. She has made new friends in the city and even met up with some old ones. Those meetings are more meaningful now than ever.
Yet home is where the heart is.
“I really miss Ukraine,” she says. “I miss my city. I miss my home. I miss my relatives. Ukraine is my home.”
Her father has urged her to stay in the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, he is back in Dnipro looking after his elderly mother who is staying with him. Liza, for her part, has offered her place to a family displaced from Kharkiv, one of the worst hit regions in Ukraine.
“I am afraid of how the war will end. No one knows. Even after the war, I wonder if there will still be a dangerous threat from Russia. They could also break Ukraine apart. So I don't know what I will do in the future. But I would like to return home and live in Ukraine.”
It is a wish that is no doubt held dear by all those who had to leave their homes behind in Ukraine.
Only one of so many. My heart breaks knowing that.