“I want to thank all the ladies at the Kalyna Community Center! Since the moment we arrived, you have been there for our children! When they had no one to play with or talk to, the Center was like a breath of fresh air for them. You gave our children the opportunity to feel at home!”
This is just one of the many positive messages people have written to the Kalyna Community Center in Pardubice. Since its founding in June 2022, it has become a place where refugees from Ukraine and other people can find hope, get help and meet others. How does the center help people and how has it become an important part of the Pardubice community?
The Kalyna Center was founded by people with extensive experience in helping people during migration crises: Jan Böhm worked with the NGO Doctors Without Borders for 15 years, and Dalimil Petrilák gained experience during the refugee crisis in the Balkan countries in 2015-16. The team also includes the spokesperson of the City of Pardubice, Greek Catholic parish priest Marian Kurylo and Evangelical parish priest Hana Ducho. And it is the Center’s Czech and Ukrainian staff, volunteers and director Petra Srdínková who make daily operations possible.
We understand refugees
“It was around April 2022 that we realized that the war in Ukraine was going to be a long-term conflict and that the situation required a comprehensive, longer-term approach,” says Petra Srdínková, explaining the initial impetus for the center. Within a few months, the core team established an association and the Czech-Ukrainian team got to work.
“Our Ukrainian staff members have lived in Pardubice for a long time and speak Czech. This gives us transparency and credibility with the Czech public and with the Ukrainian public. We understand them, we speak their language, we understand the differences in mentality.”
Kalyna helps Ukrainian refugees by providing translation and interpreting services and communicating with doctors, authorities and schools. The center strives to do much more, however. Another member of the Kalyna association, Marina, says: “What makes us different is that we help people of all ages make new contacts. We offer them a space where they can meet, spend time and make friends.”
“We want the people we help to be as self-sufficient as possible. So that they can work, have a roof over their heads and be able to integrate into Czech society.”
Petra Srdínková, Kalyna Community Center
Kalyna’s development has been very dynamic from the very outset. Kalyna operates locally in the Pardubice metropolitan area and also provides some services in the broader Pardubice region. With more than 10,000 refugees registered in Pardubice and the surrounding area, staff is constantly on the move. The city of Pardubice initially provided the centre with temporary premises at the local university, but the team found they needed a larger place where they could hold meetings and be available for anyone who was interested, from both the Ukrainian and the Czech public. In the end they found a suitable space in a former pastry shop.
72 one-on-one therapy sessions and 7 group therapy sessions, 36 consultations on housing and job searches, interpreting and 345 online requests for advice and assistance in the last month. Interest in the Center’s activities continues to grow.
Kalyna responds to changing needs: initially, newcomers needed help navigating the city, finding housing and schools for children and also psychological support. Over time, Kalyna has added activities that help newcomers integrate into mainstream Czech society.
“Our events have been a success and we’ve seen a great turnout. Neighborhood events are now a priority for us so that we can connect newcomers from Ukraine with the Czech public. For example, thanks to support from Via Foundation, we launched a project called “The Four Seasons”, which introduces Czech customs and traditions and helps to create a connection between the two cultures,” says Petra Srdínková, adding: “We’re finding out how difficult this work is, and that it will be a long-term commitment. It’s not something that can be completed in three or six months.” Given rising negative attitudes among the Czech public towards Ukrainian refugees, this work is becoming increasingly important, and organizing neighborhood events connecting Czechs and Ukrainians is one of the center’s priorities for the coming year.
School is the path to a future
The center’s second priority is Ukrainian teenagers. “They come to the Czech Republic when they’re about 15 to 21, some of them even alone, without their families. They have no school here, they have no future. They are trying to figure out what to do, often they go to work at the age of 15, often illegally. They disappear from the system, and this could be a problem in the future. At the center, we interact with them informally and try to give them ideas. We are not an official authority where they can’t communicate or whether they feel pressured. They come to us because we’ve got nice and friendly people and then the teenagers see that they are not completely alone in all this. We offer them a helping hand and a safe space where they can spend their free time and meet their Czech and Ukrainian peers. At Kalyna, it’s not important where you come from – it’s a place where you can find help, friendship and hope for the future”, concludes Petra Srdínková, director of the centre.
“I’ve been very fortunate, and I want those who have been less fortunate to have the same opportunities. Like the young people we serve at our community center. They came to the Czech Republic all alone, most of the time they don’t even have a place to go back to, they just need to be given a chance at the beginning. Then they can fend for themselves.”
Petra Srdínková, Kalyna Community Center
The Kalyna Center in Pardubice has become a bright spot in difficult times. Kalyna shows that even one organization can make a big difference in the lives of many people.
Would you like to know more? Below you can read how Kalyna helped Anna, who came to the Czech Republic from the south of Ukraine.
Anna Akhundova’s experience at the Kalyna Club
My name is Anna Akhundova. I have been in Pardubice since August 2022. I came to the Czech Republic because of the full-scale Russian military invasion of Ukraine. I came from the south of Ukraine from the city of Nikolayev, which was threatened with occupation by Russia. My psychological state corresponded to the situation: war in my country, in my hometown, home abandoned, and my favourite job left behind as well.
I felt safe in Pardubice, but I also felt that I had absolutely no strength, but I had to continue living, adapting, learning the language and developing my skills. I read on social media that there is a center in Pardubice that helps and supports people who have applied for asylum in the Czech Republic. I started going to different events. At the lectures they informed us about our rights and obligations, where we can get help, where we can start learning Czech. I attended master classes for women: we painted, made handicrafts and just talked. It was a huge support. Thanks to the Kalyna Club, I visited the theatre in Pardubice for the first time. Then in February they opened the Women’s Club. This club became a very important part of my new life. We met on Saturdays under the guidance of the trainers Kateřina Dobrinová and Marina Leibová. The coaches helped us to stabilize our mental state, not to get lost, to set new goals so that we could continue living our lives in the new conditions.
Petra Srdinkova gave a tour of Pardubice to a group of Ukrainians, showing us the sights and telling us about the history. Then there was even more! The Kalyna Club organized free excursions to Hradec Kralove and Litomyšl for members of the Women’s Club. It was unforgettable! In the summer of 2023, I took advantage of another opportunity from Kalyna. There was a new course called “Supporting the participation of Ukrainian nationals in the labor market”. I am still participating in it. The course consists of several modules: learning the Czech language, a motivational course, financial literacy, legal basics and computer literacy. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to take these courses for free. They will help me find a good job, integrate even better into Czech society and know my rights and obligations. The Kalyna Club is a place where I can always come and where I will be welcomed and helped. I am extremely grateful to the Kalyna Club team for their work and help!