АвторAuthor: Iryna Semenova | Translation: Mariia Orletska
10 July 2022
Before the full-scale invasion began, Olena Saltanova from Cherkasy was working as an interior designer for a small firm , which she founded with her student friend. She was raising two children with her husband, and planning renovations in the house, which was bought a few years ago. Olena also wrote a book about “Ukrainian hygge” and the feeling of home. Actually hygge means a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being. With the beginning of a new stage of RUSSIA’S war against Ukraine, the woman had to go to distant Sweden with her children and a small backpack of things. There, Olena has been getting used to the new reality for several months. She is preparing her book for publication, in which the accents have shifted from Danish hygge to Ukrainian coziness.
Olena, like most Ukrainians, constantly monitored disturbing news. However, she did not fully understand that this was a full-scale invasion.
“I already had a certain anticipation. On February 24, I woke up at 5 AM, grabbed my phone and started scrolling through the news feed. I didn’t find anything there, and ultimately the phone dropped and the screen broke. Then I fell asleep, an hour later I woke up and there was already a message in all the chat rooms that the war had started. Then there was a surreal hour, when I had to collect my daughter and son to kindergarten and school, and instead I woke my son up and said “Wake up, but you won’t go to school because the war has started”.
My husband and I decided to arrange a shelter in the bath (there is a pool there, which was supposed to be as a bomb shelter for us, and also we sealed the windows). At first nobody was going to move out. But the situation in Ukraine was getting worse and a week later my brother, who lives in Sweden, called me with the question “Well, how long will you live in a bathhouse?”. So a week later we packed up. Mentally, it was a very difficult decision. I roared for 24 hours without stopping”.
Olena remembers that she packed a small suitcase because she heard stories about how people stood at the border for 8 hours and went on foot kilometers with their children.
I took the most necessary things, which included 2 books in Ukrainian, a notebook with notes for my future book and a flash drive with files – drafts for the book. Last year I had surgery after breaking my leg. I have 2 bolts in my knee, so I have a special document for admission at the airport , like going through the metal detector. Well, I forgot it. But I took the books.
Honestly, we thought that we were going for a maximum of 2 weeks. No one expected that it would drag out for many months.
Olena and her husband completed the trip in 2 hours. “My husband, Sasha, drove us to the border with Romania. Then I had to explain to the children that dad is not coming with us further. The most difficult thing was to see their eyes at this time. There were many roadblocks on our way. Це було так щемливо. Аж до сліз.When they checked the car and saw that children were driving, the soldiers shouted “Glory to Ukraine”, and my son Yaryk shouted “Glory to the Heroes”. It was so cordial. Up to tears. Then we spent the night near the border in some school. Some people left the Kyiv region, they used to live near Bucha. So when they told me they did not have a home, that they were sitting in the basement, in the same clothes they went on. That they have one bag of things with them, that’s when I realized that I still have a trip. Vacation. And they have a war.
Then Olena and her children drove to the border, where they spent 3 days in Romania, and from there flew to Sweden.
“We stood at the airport for 1.5 hours, in the so-called “other” queue. And I could not understand why so many people. But then I realized that the others were not residents of the European Union – they were all Ukrainian mothers with children, and grandmothers .
“As for me , Sweden is full of interesting things. I have never been here before , but I really wanted to get here. Here is the largest Ikea store in the world, the Scandinavian style, which is very popular all over the world and of course, the urban architecture, which is very interesting to me as a designer and architect. For me, there is nothing better than going out into the city and looking at the houses. Although people say that an active tourist has nothing to do here, I am interested in everything. People in Sweden are very friendly and kind, the volunteer movement is very developed.
And the government does not help Ukrainian refugees like ordinary people. However, there is a big problem with the documents. Here I feel like a Soviet joke about Estonians. Everything is very slow, prolonged, a lot of paper sheets. Three months passed while we waited for our identification number and documents. My eldest child, Yaroslav, studied all this time in an online Ukrainian school, he got up at 7 AM, because there is a time difference. And daughter Maryna entered kindergarten only 3 months later”.
As Olena says, Swedish kindergartens impressed her with their freedom. She says that if their Ukrainian caregivers saw this system, they would probably lose consciousness.
“Here in the kindergartens there are no cribs. Where you fall, there you sleep. If you don’t want to sleep just don’t sleep. If you don’t want to eat , don’t eat. If you don’t want to sing but you want to play with toys – go and play. A free personality is brought up in a person, and this freedom is valued above all else. And also – hardening. The caregiver is watering everyone with a hose, while it’s raining and the temperature is 13 degrees. Of course, the children are wearing appropriate clothes – raincoats, rubber boots, but this is so unusual for us that it was a little shocking at first”. Considering Sweden is a socialist country, Olena’s children have the right to attend kindergarten and school for free.
“If I worked here, then Marina would have right to be in kindergarten more time, I could leave her for the whole day. Now it’s only from 9 to 3. If you know the language , you can find a job by profession . That’s why I’m learning Swedish and working online with customers from Ukraine. I really dream of returning home”.
I dream of sitting on the grass at home, pouring myself a cup of coffee and admiring the peonies and roses that I planted, and which are blooming now without me.
In Cherkasy, Ukraine, Olena had a two-story house with a bathhouse, a garden, a dog, a cat, a fish and a turtle. Now she lives with her mother, children and brother in his small apartment. She constantly remembers her native home and writes about it.
“When I conceived my book about the Ukrainian home, I planned to call it “Ukrainian hygge”. But now the plans have changed, because Ukraine is now interesting to the whole world because of its identity. Without artificial attachment to different countries and cultures. Previously, we all focused on hygge, Scandinavian style and fashionable feng shui. But now we really overestimated our attitude towards our country and our home. It turned out how much we all love it. Because everyone who left wanted to go home. It would be cool to come here for a vacation ,for a month. But everyone wants to go home.
Olena says that museums and entertainment centers in Sweden are open for Ukrainian children. You can visit it for free and this place is where she can meet other refugees.
“Here we discuss our new awareness. The fact that we have traditions, such a beautiful culture. We understood that our house is not really bad. Because the inferiority complex was hammered into our heads. And now we have all opened our eyes and seen who we really are. When I asked earlier, even before the invasion , during the preparation of the book “what is your sense of home?”, I remember someone wrote in the comments that the main thing in the sense of home is having a home. Then I read posts on social networks of people who described their pain. They were worried not about property, money or equipment, but about memories. For not returning the children’s photo album. For not returning icons, towels, pictures embroidered by grandmother or old photos of parents in which they are still young. I think that all of us now understand that for Ukrainians a home is a treasure trove of values. I recently read the book “The Cultural Code” by Clotaire Rapaille. He works as a PR person and designs advertising based on what is important to different nations. He writes about Americans and French and what is home for them. For Ukrainians, now it’s connected to millions of people, home is a place they want to return to. Because for many years bloodthirsty neighbors came, and people had to flee. I still have a home in household.
Olena Saltanova’s future book will be called “Home and walls help, or the secrets of happiness in the Ukrainian way”. The writer is currently collaborating with several Ukrainian photographers and designers, selecting illustrations for the book. At the same time she is applying for a special grant to give life to the publication.
On her birthday, Olena went to a symbolic place for a Ukrainian woman in Sweden – the city of Sigtuna, the first capital of Sweden, where Princess Ingigerda was born, whom we know as Anna, the wife of Yaroslav the Mudry.
Their daughters, three of them, Princesses Anna, Elizabeth and Anastasia, later became queens of France, Denmark and Norway, Hungary. Respectively they are ancient relatives of modern kings. The church then baptized Anna of Novgorod. According to their chronicles, she lived to the age in the Novgorod monastery. However, our scientists refute this information. In the movie “Ukraine. The return of its history” researchers came to the conclusion that Anna was a strong-willed woman, intelligent, wise at the level of her husband and ruled the state together with him until the end in Kyiv.
“In Sigtuna, everything is as I like it – historical, colorful, authentic and cozy. From the ruins of the castle, we headed to a more modern church, says Olena Saltanova. It is only 300 years old. The servants told us the story of the Swedish princess, whose memory is commemorated here, and mentioned her husband. Then I said that my son is also called Yaroslav.
“Oh, what a coincidence, grandfather was surprised, slapping my Yarik on the shoulders while he looked at the Orthodox icon of Anna and the frescoes on the ceiling which are unusual for the Swedish church. Nice name, by the way!”
Yaroslav is really proud of him since he started learning history from school lessons.
“Mom,” he asked, “am I wise enough?”
And this is a question that I ask myself all the time, including in my book: Are we wise enough to be proud of our everything, from name to history?
Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.
Why is it important to share this story?
If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.
АвторAuthor: Iryna Semenova | Translation: Mariia Orletska
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