Originally from the Netherlands, Roel van der Linden is currently studying in Krakow, Poland. There he follows a Master’s programme in International Security and Development.
Hello Roel! Thanks for accepting our invitation. We know that, since the invasion of Ukraine started on 24 February, you have been actively volunteering in Poland and helping refugees. Could you tell us a bit more?
Yes! So, as you know, I live in Krakow for my studies. As this is one of the closest big cities to the Ukrainian-EU border, we’ve seen many Ukrainians arrive here. Seeing the current situation in Ukraine breaks my heart. Realising that I live in such peaceful circumstances, whereas on the other side of the border people of the same age face the biggest challenges, feels really wrong.
So, like a lot of people, I wanted to help as well. Many brave but exhausted Ukrainians are in Krakow, waiting and looking for further transport through Europe. Besides giving money and clothes, and running the Red Cross charity run in Krakow, being so close to the border gives me the opportunity to help even more and on a deeper level! So, I subscribed as a host on icanhelp.host – a clear platform where you can leave your contact details so people can contact you. The great thing is that you can also specify how many people you can take and for how many days so that only people interested in that offer will contact you! My girlfriend and I twice hosted twice a young woman in our apartment, and both of them stayed a few nights. It was a unique and beautiful experience.
Wow, that does sound like a unique experience! Could you tell us more about your hosting event? What were the challenges for example, and what should people keep in mind?
Well, communicating was rather hard I would say. Anna and Tonia, the two women that stayed with us, both only spoke Russian. However, through Google Translate and some hand gestures, we managed quite well. Also, it was important to keep in mind that they are exhausted. Tonia for example told us that she was for three days on the run without a proper night’s rest, and they were on guard – which makes sense since they are refugees and thus in survival mode. It was therefore very important to give them enough privacy, and show how you lock the bathroom, for example. At the same time, we wanted to be there for them for a conversation, to also take their minds off things a bit. Finding the right balance was not always easy, but through facial expressions, we could see that we all meant it well, and we just wanted the best for them.
That is very interesting, and as you say it is important to keep in mind that these people are refugees and therefore in survival mode. Could you share a bit more of your experience and how you helped them?
It was amazing to see how friendly and grateful they were, even when they were with their mind of course on other things. When we offered Anna for example a coffee the next morning, she seemed so happy! Just a coffee and some privacy can make such a difference. Afterwards, when we brought them back to the bus station, both the times we said goodbye were rather emotional: you meet someone when they’re at their most vulnerable, and thus the time you spend together, as short as it is, makes a huge impact. I think this is something we will all remember for the rest of our lives. With a smile, we said that we would hopefully one day meet again in Ukraine, in better circumstances. Hopefully, we can do this one day!
Wow, it’s amazing! Your work is fundamental, and I am sure it’s helping many. What would you say to young people in Poland and the Netherlands right now? What are the best ways to help?
So, as I said I hope that by sharing this story I can encourage some people to take the step and take some people who fled from the war in their house. Young people especially can play a big role in hosting I think, as that might be a little less scary for young Ukrainians who left everything behind. Even though you don’t speak each other’s language, you still feel connected and still understand each other. You understand each other’s needs a bit more easily, for example, the fact that they need the WiFi password and an extra charger. In the end, we’re all the same, no matter from which part of the world you come, so let’s welcome everyone in the best way possible.
Young people especially can play a big role in hosting, as that might be a little less scary for young Ukrainians who left everything behind. Even though you don’t speak each other’s language, you still feel connected and still understand each other.
I think the main point I want to stress is the fact that hosting someone is a great way to help. It’s a bit scary of course, as you let someone into your house and you give up a bit of your privacy as well, but you can make such a big impact on someone’s life. Hosting doesn’t have to be for a big family for three months: even a few nights can make such a difference. I hope this encourages more people to do so, and that they may have as beautiful meetings as I had!
What would be your suggestions to someone willing to host, but doing it for the first time?
As mentioned before, you need to realise that these people are on guard, as they are refugees. This means that you should show them how they can lock the bathroom for example, and knock when you enter their room. Like this, they feel safer and more secure. Also keep in mind that even though it may be quite thrilling for you, for them they completely surrender themselves to you, and it is important to realise this. And ultimately, I would stress that it is nice to have some nice conversations with them in the evening (this leads to the best and deepest talks) but it is also important to give them space when they need to. Sometimes they just want to relax on their own, and it is important to try to see the signals, as they might be quite shy in admitting this.
In general, imagine that you had to leave your country, and receive people as you wish to be received. Just be nice and kind 🙂 If you decide to host someone, know that you do something really awesome which can make such a big impact on someone.
Useful links for Poland:
General information – https://pomagamukrainie.gov.pl/
To host – https://icanhelp.host
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