Between late March and early April 2022, at the outbreak of war in Ukraine, three refugee families were welcomed in Loppiano. Here is the experience of the group of volunteers who took care of them.
February 24, 2022: the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Our TVs transmitted images of bombed cities, evacuees forced to find refuge in subway tunnels and many, mostly women and children, trying to flee, to cross the border to safety. In Loppiano as in other places, the inhabitants began to ask what they could do to help.
“When the war broke out, watching the images of thousands of refugees forced to leave their homeland brought tears to our eyes, and some here, as so many throughout Italy, resolved to take in some families. This was our way of going out to meet those who are suffering,” said Monica Lonati, one of the volunteers of the group in Loppiano welcoming the Ukrainian families, a group of of Loppiano residents coming from various vocations. “We were aware that we did not know what we were getting into,” Marco Barlucchi, another volunteer in the group admitted: “The road opened up day by day…. But we drew our strength from being in it together!”.
Thus began a close collaboration with other realities in the area (Caritas, Nuovi Orizzonti), which were hosting refugees. One by one, from the end of March to the beginning of April, three families were hosted: at the Loreto School, at the Visitation and, with the approval of the bishop of Fiesole, in an apartment in the parish of San Vito. So many made themselves available with their time, strength, ideas and prayers, supporting the families in all matters of health, schooling, bureaucracy, translations, travel, and teaching of the Italian language. A chain of solidarity formed which involved many friends and acquaintances in the search for what was needed. This experience was also shared with the Ukraine-Aid committee, which brings together various local associations engaged on the same front.
“They were fleeing from the war, so when they arrived, they needed everything and were deeply wounded and traumatized,” Monica recounted. She and her family supported, in particular, the largest family, which lodged in San Vito. “The greatest need, though,” Monica explained, “was to get out from underneath the nightmare of the bombs, the fear and anguish of losing everything. So, we gathered their tears, their fears and their anger. At first, there was a lot of distrust. The work to win some of their trust was long and patient, and the language barrier was huge.” But this perseverance was rewarded by seeing the first smiles appear on the faces of the refugees, the growing trust they showed also through gifts made with their own hands. Many joyful moments were shared: lunches, birthday parties, some recreational occasions in the citadel, summer camps for the children, some trips and meetings with other Ukrainian families hosted in Valdarno.
“The experience of one of the young girls who is 13 was special,” recalled another volunteer, Aurelia Nembrini. “She was able to join, thanks to the Figline sports club that covered all expenses, a karate group, pass an official exam and receive her black belt. Here, she was able to build friendships that remain in her heart.” Also, the temporary job for the father of the family of seven: “It had to be a job that did not require knowledge of Italian and — we found it! The father was working at a dairy in Burchio for two months. We also found a bicycle so that he could get around independently every day,” Aurelia added.
But none of this would have been possible without the participation of many private individuals who supported the project with their donations. Josella Migliaccio, head of the Italian courses for Ukrainians, said: “We were not among the centers affiliated with the Italian state for the reception of refugees. And the state contribution received directly from Ukrainian families was for only three months. So during this time, we were responsible for all their expenses of medicine, transportation, utilities, food, etc. This was only possible thanks to the help and generosity of the many people who donated their small or large contributions!”
Today, two of the families have already returned to Ukraine. But they have not been abandoned. One of them was accompanied all the way to Poland by Gosia, another volunteer from the host group who was Polish. She helped them overcome the fear of traveling alone and the uncertainty of the language. Near-daily telephone reports also continue, to support them from a distance, as much as is possible.
“We have touched with our own hands that burdens carried together become light and what seemed impossible becomes possible,” Gosia concluded. “Being so different from one another, we did not always agree on how to deal with certain situations. Sometimes, we even argued a bit. But going beyond the differences, we experienced the possibility of making even the most delicate decisions in a relationship of mutual acceptance, candor and sincerity, where everything was ordered with a direction that did not come from us.”