Prague, Czech Republic – In a show of gratitude and appreciation for the welcome they’ve received, Ukrainian refugees in Poland and the Czech Republic are rolling up their sleeves and tidying up their adoptive cities.
Last week, a volunteer group of Ukrainian war refugees in Prague organised a vast cleanup initiative across districts 7 and 10 of the Czech capital as a thank-you gesture for the warm welcome and solidarity of local residents.
“We organise the cleaning as a token of gratitude for all our people who have received a wonderful reception and great help,” said Marija, a Ukrainian woman who has been living in Prague for several years and initiated last week’s event.
Ukrainian volunteers show gratitude to Prague welcome
Approached by the group of Ukrainian volunteers, the mayor of Prague 7 Jan Čižinský thanked them for their gesture of goodwill and assured them that Czechs “are grateful that their men, women, brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers are fighting for us and our freedom right now.”
In a Facebook post, Čižinský said he told Maria and her compatriots that there was no need to show their appreciation in this way, but that “they didn’t relent and want to help Prague in any way they can.”
Following the success of last week’s operation, which saw Prague locals join up with the Ukrainian group, other similar cleanup initiatives may take place in the near future.
Around 300,000 Ukrainian refugees – women and children in their vast majority – are estimated to have fled to the Czech Republic since the start of the Russian invasion.
More than 275,000 of them have received a special visa, according to data released Sunday by the Interior Ministry, allowing them to spend a year in the country and giving them access to employment and health insurance among other benefits.
Poland leads Ukraine refugee efforts
But the Czech Republic is not the only CEE country where governments and locals have opened their doors to Ukrainian refugees seeking safety from the war.
According to the latest UN data, more than 4.5 million people have left Ukraine since late February, including more than 320,000 who found refuge in Slovakia, 420,000 in neighbouring Hungary, 700,000 in Romania, and over 2.6 million in Poland alone.
Like their compatriots in Prague, Ukrainian refugees across Poland have decided to pitch in and show their gratitude to Poles by cleaning up streets, parks, forests, and various other public spaces.
Drawing on the Soviet-era tradition of “subotnik”, such initiatives are now taking place on a regular basis in numerous Polish cities across the country, including Suwałki, Wrocław, Poznań, Kraków, Gdańsk, Katowice, Łódź, Szczecin, Białystok, Lublin and Rzeszów.
“We know that such cleaning once a week is probably not much,” said Lena Bodarenko, who lives in Poznań. “But we want to say thank you. We have been very well received.”