Ukrainians who have been given a roof over their heads in Malta have expressed immense gratitude for the generosity of the locals as they swing between feeling safe and utterly desperate while the war rages on.
Mother-of-two Anastasiia Diadiuk is one of the displaced Ukrainians who ended up in Malta when a friend told her and her sister-in-law they would be offered free accommodation by a local.
“I left everything behind – my husband, my family, my friends, my home, my job, my hobbies – and just saved my life and my kids…” Diadiuk trails off.
But unwilling to elicit any pity, she focuses on thanking the Maltese for their kindness, friendliness, warm welcome and treatment, and is already actively seeking a job to be able to stand on her own two feet and repay the benevolence that has come her family’s way.
“No words can explain how grateful we are,” says the 40-year-old practising lawyer and university professor.
Much of that appreciation is directed towards the man who put them up but who prefers to retain a low profile, although he insists providing free accommodation is the “key” form of support for displaced Ukrainians.
Even though a mere handful of acquaintances knew about his gesture, donations in the form of anything from money to good-quality clothes flowed in, he said, pointing out that the two mothers and their children arrived around three weeks ago carrying only light haversacks.
One person who wanted to help, but did not have any women’s and kids’ things, went to a toyshop and bought a whole bag of gifts, individually and beautifully wrapped, for the children.
“The families were in tears when they received this. Then he just handed €250, without even meeting them or knowing anything about me,” he said.
This is the kind of generosity we are seeing towards strangers, he continued about the “surplus” of donations from everywhere.
“In our case, when my siblings and I were approached about offering a property, we had just inherited a Sliema apartment. We did not really earn it. It fell onto our laps. And it was the right thing to do,” he said, playing down their generosity.
“Someone who digs into his pocket and gives €20 for the cause is doing more,” he maintained.
The man, who has a family-run estate agency, urged those who have vacant properties to put them to good use and offer them to Ukrainian refugees.
“So many people have inherited a property and have left it overpriced and empty on the market for years because they are squabbling over a pittance. Instead, they should use it for this cause,” he appealed.
“I think more people can do this,” he said, explaining how they rushed to get their apartment set up to accommodate six people and how fast action to assist could save lives.
Guidance and assistance are also on hand for the Ukrainians to obtain temporary protection status, which lasts a year and allows them to work and benefit from public health and schooling, he said from his experience so far.
“We did not put a closing date on this,” he said about the length of the families’ stay in their apartment.
“It is we who have to ask them if they need anything,” he stressed.
Diadiuk said she has already undergone interviews with a law firm here and is hoping to be self-sufficient again to be able to fend for her children and help fellow Ukrainians.
“I have always tried to do my best and worked to earn money and support others,” she said.
The paperwork to obtain temporary protection status, be able to work and get her nine- and 11-year-old children in school is keeping her busy as she lives from one day to the next, uncertain of what the future holds and when they can return home.
“I appreciate the opportunity to work so that we can feel ourselves and not be reliant on welfare,” she added.
Although she does not feel alone and lost here, both she and her sister-in-law, also a mother of two, have had to leave behind their husbands, who although not trained soldiers may end up with weapons in their hands to fight a war.
“Of course, I do not feel like I am on vacation. I feel like a refugee, and I worry a lot about my country,” she said about how she unexpectedly ended up in Malta.
It is her children who are keeping her going as she knows she must be strong for them and put aside her own fears.
“It is hard for them. They sometimes cry because they want to be back home, and sometimes, they are happy playing by the seashore.”
And she too is in limbo: “Sometimes I am depressed and about to cry, like now. But I know I must take care of my kids and make them happy and that helps me keep it together.”
In her communication with home, Diadiuk has seen “terrible” things that have left her anxious and distressed.
“The Russian invasion just broke our lives. We were peaceful civilians, with work, hopes and dreams. This war is unfair, and we do not understand why they are killing us.”
Nevertheless, her message is one of hope: “I wish for Ukraine to stand and be in peace, for all Ukrainians to believe our country will remain a democracy, and that someday we will return home.”