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PRAGUE, April 5 (Reuters) – A month after fleeing her home in central Ukraine with her three sons, Yulia Sarycheva shares a teapot with two artists who are hosting them in their home in an old Prague suburb.
The fact that their hosts Peter Bankov and his wife Yulia Fedulova are Russian makes no difference to the 41-year-old from the city of Dnipro.
“I understand this is a political situation. It doesn’t apply to people,” Sarycheva said.
Sarycheva and her sons are among 4.2 million people estimated by the United Nations to have fled Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion on February 24.
The majority went to Poland, but around 300,000 Ukrainian refugees arrived in the Czech Republic, another Slavic-speaking country that is home to large Ukrainian and Russian communities.
Bankov, 52, said it felt natural to help in part because his mother’s Jewish family had also been uprooted, only in their case by Nazi Germany. “Many years ago my family was like refugees,” he said.
About 45,000 Russians live in the Czech Republic, according to the Interior Ministry, and among them Bankov and Fedulova are not the only ones who support Ukrainians.
On March 26, thousands of people took part in a march organized by the Russians in Prague to protest against the invasion.
Several protesters told Reuters they or other community members were helping Ukrainian refugees. They declined to be interviewed.
Russia says its “special military operation” in Ukraine aims to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbor. Ukraine and the West say the invasion was illegal and unjustified.
Bankov and Fedulova took in Sarycheva and her sons Serafin, 8, Sava, 12, and Sergey, 15, after a call from Fedulova’s church in Prague.
After the family left their home in Dnipro, they headed first by train to the western city of Lviv. Sarycheva’s husband, Anton, remained.
Some of the other passengers on the train, which rolled west through the night with all its lights extinguished, were people from Volnovakha, one of the most destroyed towns in the conflict.
“Many already had nowhere to return,” Sarycheva said.
From Lviv, she and her sons crossed the Polish border, where volunteers greeted the family with hugs and gave them soup and toys.
“I just cried…it was kind of a shock,” Sarycheva said. “I didn’t want to feel like a refugee at all.”
Eventually, a Polish volunteer drove them to Prague where the three boys and Sarycheva, who is also an artist like her hosts, stayed in a small guesthouse stuck on the Russian couple’s property.
“I have such nightly (moments) of gratitude for the fact that I got to know Peter and Yulia,” Sarycheva said.
“I have no idea how this story will end,” she added. “I take everything as a gift from God.”
Reporting by Jason Hovet and Jiri Skacel Editing by Jan Lopatka and Raissa Kasolowsky
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