Text and photos: Hannu & Oili

Two whole years since our latest visit to Ukraine! We desperately wanted to spend the Christmas in Friend’s House, although travelling seemed uncertain due to the pandemic and the threat of war. When we left, someone wished us a good weather – really, the weather was the least of our worries.

The luxury of a direct flight is a memory now that Belarus must be avoided. Kyiv welcomed us looking rainy but beautiful in its Christmas lights. We hurried on to Pisky to meet our old and new friends and to see the renewed Friend’s House.

Oh, How the Children Had Grown!

A child grows much in two years, and a youngster is suddenly an adult. Hugging them, we sometimes had to reach up now! Kristina is 13 already and has learnt such good English that she was great help interpreting for us.

We had seen photos of the new rooms in Friend’s House, but the pleasant guest rooms and the modern and spacious kitchen were still a surprise. We immediately made good use of the kitchen making gingerbread dough for tomorrow’s baking session.

More than a dozen children eagerly used their rolling pins around the tables. Quite a few of those who usually come to Friend’s House were ill with the flu or the covid. It seems that baking gingerbread comes naturally to children. Many of them did it for the first time, but everything went nicely.

What a joy to meet the team again! We were also happy to meet the new team members. But one was missing: The Lady of the House, Nadia who passed away more than a year ago. We visited Nadia’s grave to express our longing.

Menacing Prospects and Splendid Sights

The news of preparing for war distressed us. Our Ukrainian friends were not eager to talk about the threat of war although it was constantly silently present. Children’s Embassy cannot influence the international politics, but it can prepare for the worst case in its own way. We started compiling provisions for Friend’s House and for the families. Together with the Adolphis, we wrote a letter of appeal to our friends in Finland and Sweden.

The children’s Christmas party and meal included, as always, a prayer for peace. This time, it was a very sincere prayer. Why should these happy and innocent children live under the threat of war?

During the Christmas weekend, Friend’s House was going to be silent. Bookkeeper Julia and we decided to take a train to western Ukraine, to the historical town of Kamyanets-Podolsky. Our temperatures were taken at the railway station, and we could not but notice the Ukrainian way of wearing the mask: below the nose… We had to show our COVID Certificates when entering stations, trains, hotels and restaurants.

Kamyanets-Podolsky proved to be very interesting and beautiful: castles and churches dating from various areas, romantic Old Town, pleasant restaurants. The Christmas weekend was soon over, and we travelled back in a sleeping car.

Back in Friend’s House, we baked more gingerbread with Tanya’s family. Mirjam and Oili cooked a Finnish-Swedish Christmas meal for the team. They enjoyed the Nordic dishes, such as herring, carrot casserole, ham and cold-smoked reindeer. Sveta’s 10-months-old Emma appreciated the fruit dessert.

New Year is the greatest family holiday in Ukraine, so we went shopping for groceries with several families. We also visited a few homes we already knew and a couple of new ones which we had only seen on Facebook. Our friends back home had again knitted Christmas presents. This time, we brought the knitwear to the children in a family who had escaped the war from Lugansk. They were starting a new life in a new home – hopefully not to be destroyed by another war!

Before flying home, we stayed the last night in Kyiv. The news told about negotiations between Biden and Putin, but nobody expected very much from them. It felt bad to travel away and leave our friends in such a threatening situation. On the other hand, we are growing old and tired, so it seemed a great privilege to return to our dear and stable Finland and to the warmth of our home sauna.

When we fell asleep at home, we dreamt of Ukraine.

Hannu and Oili Räsänen

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