Stefaniia came to Lund less than a year ago after fleeing the war with her family. During an interview, she told us her story and how she came to work as a communicator for the project Meeting Central Ukraine. She arrived in Lund with her parents and granddad last March, only weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Stefaniia had just finished her Master's in Environmental Science and worked at the university when the war started. She and her family came from the small city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border. The city was one of the first places reached by the war.
"First, we thought it was a military practice or the train. But then we realised, the war has started. We started receiving messages with video recordings of Russian tanks entering neighbouring cities." During the following weeks, facing uncertainty, Stefaniia and her family spent hours in basement shelters hiding from the Russian bombs. "We expected the war to end in a couple of weeks", says Stefaniia.
Stefaniia works as a communicator at the Meeting Central Ukraine
Today, only months after she and her family arrived to Sweden, Stefaniia works as a communicator at the Meeting Central Ukraine project in Lund. The project has been active since 2014, but since the beginning of the war, it has a newfound meaning. Stefaniia describes the start of the project: "First, it was a volunteer-based project organised by a Ukrainian woman. She lived in Sweden for 8 years and started to help Ukrainian refugees in 2014. After the full-scale invasion, the project reopened. We expanded our daily activities and started collaborating with different organisations: Rädda barnen, Vuxenskolan and Kulturskolan, to name a few."
Stefaniia Akchurina, communicator at Meeting Central Ukraine.
The project has grown much since Stefaniia started to work there. The goal of the project is to function as an information centre for newly arrived. At the same time, the project seeks to provide a local network for the Ukrainian community. People arriving to Sweden can turn to Meeting Central Ukraine with various questions. They offer information about migration agencies, banking and accommodation and even translation if needed. ”People who are not familiar with laws and government feel stressed, anxious and nervous. One part of my job is to be the person who is always reachable for them” says Stefaniia, who speaks and understands Swedish on a basic level and many times offers personal help for arrivals.
"We try to establish a Ukrainian life here in Lund"
Creating a safe place to meet newcomers is a crucial part of the project. The various activities offer a social platform to bond, exchange experiences and practice language. Stefaniia describes her job with devotion and care: "We try to establish a Ukrainian life here in Lund". The events often recreate Ukrainian traditions and holidays, a piece of home easing the shock of transition. Simultaneously, they support the Ukrainian war in a unique way. During one of the activities, named "A knot of hope", participants weave camouflage nets which are later sent to Ukraine to support the military.
An essential aim of the project's work is to offer a therapeutic and peaceful time for its members. "We have an activity called Friday fika, it's an opportunity for Ukrainians to meet and chat. Also, we provide crafting workshops. These craft sessions work as a therapy, to find peace and relaxation", Stefaniia explains. Currently, they plan to widen the choice of activities focusing on children offering them mental health sessions and language cafés.
"The war is still going on”
When asking Stefaniia about their challenges, she mentions a decreasing attention to projects supporting Ukraine: "The war is still going on, it should not be forgotten". Following the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine this month, Stefaniia emphasises the importance of helping people by creating a safe place for people living in uncertainty.
Today the initiative reaches about 200 people in Lund, but participants have found the project from all around Skåne. Participation in the activities is free and open to the public. Both Swedish and international people are welcome to take part. Stefaniia describes a growing network where people seek advice from her and her colleagues even before arriving to Lund. The project Meeting Central Ukraine continues to develop, Stefaniia and her colleagues have defied the ongoing war, and successfully built a piece of Ukrainian home, in Lund.