How I came to share my house with a colleague from Kyiv

How I came to share my house with a colleague from Kyiv

We had worked together with attorneys in Kyiv for several months to identify the right questions, get the translations right and finally obtain a legal opinion from venerated professors of the V.M. Koretsky Institute of State and Law of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. We were pleased and relieved when the filing was submitted and congratulated each other for having brought forward the best legal arguments in this case. What a great international co-operation among legal professionals in Europe.

Only two weeks later the world looked different: Russia invaded the Ukraine and my colleague from Kyiv was stuck at home, hearing sirens and not knowing if or when the Russian rockets would hit her house. The filing and our previous legal discussions seemed utterly obsolete. I started to ask personal questions and found out that her daughter was almost the same age as mine, her son a bit younger. When Switzerland decided to grant the Protective-Status to refugees from Ukraine – the first application of such status in legislative history – I wrote to my colleague informing her of the possibilities and offering her to stay at my house. She and her children arrived in late March – one month into the war. We welcomed them at our home in Zurich 2000 kilometers from Kyiv.

Now, three months later – four months into the war – my colleague is considering driving back to Kyiv for a brief visit. The children have summer holidays and are desperate to see their father who had to stay behind. The uncertainty is agonizing. Will it be safe enough? Will she be able to cross over the border into Ukraine and drive all the way to Kyiv? Will there be petrol to drive back?

This is just the current dilemma. Since March she had innumerable difficult decisions to take: Where will she be living for the coming months? Where will her children go to school? What about work and income? Is this a temporary, mid- or (heaven forbid) a long-term solution?

We have been so privileged to be able to rely on the stability of our countries in the past. None of us thought that we would find ourselves in a situation where the future has become so uncertain. Planning has become almost impossible and we do not know when this terrible war will end.

I do not want to speak of the tragedies of the war here. It has come very close to home in sharing a house with my colleague from Kyiv. Instead, I want to point out what we learned and how we have managed our best under the given circumstances:

  • People can adapt: We can step up, change our habits and accommodate others;
  • We grow larger when we support each other;
  • The distinction between professional and personal is artificial.
  • We can always find happiness in small things, cooking dinner together, picking strawberries and watching our kids play a game of UNO in a freestyle combination of rules and languages.

All these things I wouldn't have experienced if I had made a donation. Collecting money or allocating part of the profits to support Ukraine as so many now do is of course a good thing. It is needed and important. However, sharing your house is personal and I'm glad I had the chance to do it.