Svetlana & Ivan Levishko, Denis, Sergei & Kira Debel, Kostya Husynskiy, Artem Onatskiy, Irina, Ariana & Maxim Hanzenko, Mikhaïl Yakovlev, Valeriy Slobodyaniuk, Ivan Slobodianiuk & Hanna Levishko-Slobodianiuk
La Vallée, France, April 2023
On 24 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine in an escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War which began in 2014. The invasion has killed tens of thousands on both sides. Russian forces have been responsible for mass civilian casualties and for torturing captured Ukrainian soldiers. By June 2022, about 8 million Ukrainians had been internally displaced. More than 8.2 million had fled the country by May 2023, becoming Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War II.
La Vallée, a village of about 550 inhabitants located in Charente Maritime (South West France), is where William Debois spent the first 21 years of his life. In March 2022, the Village Council made a house available to a large family of Ukrainian refugees, in response to the humanitarian crisis developing in Ukraine. Local residents have mentioned that this echoes the help villagers provided to refugees fleeing from Belgium and Northern France in 1940, following the invasion and subsequent occupation by German forces.
Ivan: We were on our land, but when the war started, we left our home, our native land. When we left Ukraine, we didn't know where we were going. We just got together very early one morning and left. We traveled for five days, over 3500 kilometres, through Poland, Germany, and Belgium, looking for a place to settle. The Internet is a powerful tool that helps you find your way, and to find people who will help you.
Svetlana: There were ten people in the minibus. In Germany, we were told that there were people in France ready to welcome us and provide us with a house. This is why we decided to come to La Vallée. As soon as we knew our destination, we immediately felt safe. French people understand our situation and support us. The only problem is that it is difficult for us to speak French. Our family is a family-based orphanage and almost all of our children are foster children. We have a 20 year old son who stayed in Ukraine. He is a soldier.
Valeriy: I will probably try to stay in France with my wife and my son. Life is better in France for us. It is different for Svetlana and Ivan who find it a little more difficult to adapt to the culture and the language. Their home is in Ukraine. The youngest children will have to return to Ukraine after the war because they are orphans. The older ones will be able to choose to stay in France.