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Fleeing war in Ukraine - finding refuge in Serbia

The war in Ukraine, like any other war, continues to separate families and friends, cause loss and grief, destroy homes and in many cases entire communities. Some of them arrive in Serbia, where DRC works with organisations to offer humanitarian assistance and trying to help, console and mend some of the invisible wounds that refugees bring with them.

Stefan Simonovic

Posted on 29 Dec 2022

Thousands of people from Ukraine have already passed through the Asylum Centre in Vranje, a town in the south of Serbia, that prepares for potential new arrivals over the winter. So far, the Asylum Centre in Vranje – the only centre that accommodates people from Ukraine - has been able to make space for everyone who has shown up so far. 

Among them is a family of two, accommodated among dozens of other refugees from Ukraine. A mother and her son set off from their home in Pokrovsk in Donetsk Oblast, eastern Ukraine, on a journey into the unknown. It was one month after the war started, and when their lives – the mother being a successful lawyer, and her son, an ambitious high school student - were interrupted by air raid alarms, explosions that got closer and closer - and then, an unusual and terrifying silence. 

- We packed everything in four hours and left the city via the evacuation zone that was set up. We simply set off, not knowing where to go at that moment, but only certain that we could not stay on. I will never forget when we were at the train station, waiting among several thousand other people who were scared and desperate like us, and we were standing in line. Such memories are never forgotten. They remain engraved forever in our minds, tells the woman from Pokrovsk to DRC at the Asylum Centre in Vranje. 

Eventually they learned that their home and the town of Pokrovsk had not been hit directly. Their journey went on across Ukraine and eventually ended in Vranje, Serbia.  

‘When the package with our wardrobe arrived from Ukraine, the first thing I did was to smell those things for a long time,’ tells the woman and explains: ‘We try to learn some lessons from everything, and so it is now. We didn't know anything about Serbia before all this, we only heard about the Serbian American inventor and engineer, Nikola Tesla, and that's it. Suddenly, we are here. We are delighted with the nature here, and above all with the people who are more at ease than us.’ 

DRC support to displaced 

In Vranje Asylum Centre, the only center accommodating persons from Ukraine, DRC provides several services for refugees and asylum-seekers funded by different donors and partners including UNICEF, among them, monthly cash cards, allowing for the displaced to set their own priorities for the needs they have.  

‘We appreciate all the support provided, primarily because we meet kind people who are trying hard to support us. Of course, financial support means a lot, but the attention given to us by DRC employees and others is what warms our souls, gives us the strength to move on. There are also recreational activities, trips and visits, and educational workshops. From human rights to ecology and yoga exercises.  

Translation services are provided at the centre in Vranje during the daytime as language is a significant barrier for newly arrived refugees to receive basic services and support.  

At a DRC library at the centre, the mother and in particular her son spends hours reading books, since DRC managed to include a small section with Ukrainian literature during the summer. 

‘I really like to read. I don't know how to explain it. When I'm not at school or when my mom is working on the Internet, I always take a book,’ the high school student from Pakrovsk tells, supported by his mother who adds:  

’All the support that DRC provides to us means a lot, not just the distributed aid and organised workshops, but as well the kindness that makes us feel that we are not forgotten - and this gives us strength to start all over and prepare for a new beginning. 

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