Maria (33) works 12-hour shifts as a dishwasher in an Italian restaurant. This afternoon, on her day off, she is spending time with her four sons: Maxim (13), Michal (11), Roman (10) and Eduard (7). As we talk, the boys come home from their activities and unpack their school bags in their modest, newly furnished rooms.
Maria welcomed us into their new apartment in Kosice, where they have been living for three weeks now, and which they managed to rent after spending 8 months in the IOM’s interim Housing Assistance Programme.
Maria and her sons Maxim, Michal, Roman and Eduard are grateful to have privacy and their own kitchen in their new apartment. Photo © International Organization for Migration (IOM) 2023.
Maria and her four sons entered the IOM’s programme in September 2022. They arrived in Slovakia three days after the war in Ukraine broke out. “No one knew what would happen back then. I was scared, so I packed up the bags for kids and fled to the nearest border,” Maria says, recalling the early days after the start of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
After leaving Ukraine, Maria and the boys initially stayed in emergency accommodation – a shipping container converted for housing. Later, they were provided with one room for the whole family. When Maria learned about the IOM Housing Assistance Programme, she did not hesitate for a second and took advantage of the opportunity for support in finding a self-contained apartment for her family.
“The IOM’s programme was much better for us; we got two rooms,” Maria remembers. “In the IOM programme, I found great support, help and time to stand on my own feet,” Maria continues.
“I had never been abroad before; in the beginning, I felt completely lost here. Max was the first one to learn the way to our accommodation,” she points to her oldest son, Max. “Max is so capable. He knows how to cook and do laundry whenever it’s necessary,” Maria says, praising him as Max bashfully lowers his gaze.
Maria is resolute in her commitment to take every necessary measure to ensure that both herself and her sons feel as secure as they can in Slovakia. Photo © International Organization for Migration (IOM) 2023.
Maria has been on her own with the children for a long time, so the boys have had to learn to be independent and to take care of themselves, at least in part. “My boys are amazing. I feel that here, I can give them what I couldn’t provide in Ukraine,” Maria says with tears in her eyes.
While Maria was living in the IOM housing programme, she regularly used the support services and info sessions on various topics that were developed for the beneficiaries. Thanks to the financial support from the Japanese government, the IOM’s Housing Assistance Programme provided social and legal counselling, job search assistance, rental assistance, psychosocial support and Slovak language classes.
The past year has been extremely challenging for Maria and her children. The sudden change of environment, fear of the future and the feeling of being alone caused one of the younger boys to refuse to eat and not want to go to school. During their stay in the IOM Housing Assistance Programme, Maria requested psychological assistance to help him and his brothers cope with the changes.
After Maria received social and legal counselling, her self-confidence and sense of stability improved, and she took the next step to rent her own apartment. IOM social workers assisted her in communicating with the authorities and went to every apartment viewing with her.
Finding an apartment for a mother with four children was not easy. Maria feels that she is gaining her independence in Slovakia. Photo © International Organization for Migration (IOM) 2023.
Finding a rental apartment for a mother with four children was not easy. Maria went on six viewings before finding a suitable place and a landlord who was willing to rent to a single-parent family. Maria says she has only met good people in Slovakia and is grateful for all the support and assistance in her difficult situation.
She found a job on her own through an advertisement. “I was one of five applicants,” she proudly adds. Maria has been with the same employer for over a year and is happy with her work. Maria works in a restaurant as a dishwasher alongside all Slovak staff. “They have been very supportive, and I ask them to correct my Slovak to help me to learn as quickly as possible.”
Roman is a right winger in his elementary school football team. In the afternoon, he plays football with his brothers in front of the apartment building. Photo © International Organization for Migration (IOM) 2023.
The new apartment is close to the boys’ elementary school, allowing them to visit classmates in the afternoon, play football or engage in online games and activities. All the changes brought about in the past year were not easy for them, but they have found friends and feel safe, which is the most important thing for their mother.
“I don’t have dreams, and I don’t know what the future holds. I just want to live normally,” Maria replies when asked about her future.
Maria is driven mainly by her aspirations for her four children. She owes her daily motivation to them, even to get out of bed. “This is our new home, and I finally feel like I belong here. Everything we have, we fought for ourselves, and we will continue to fight for what we cherish,” concludes Maria.
IOM Housing Assistance Programme in Kosice
The IOM Housing Assistance Programme was designed for people from Ukraine with the aim of helping them integrate into Slovakia. The programme was supported by a portfolio of IOM’s Migration Information Centre (MIC) services, such as legal and job counselling, Slovak language courses, psychological support and social counselling.
The IOM Housing Assistance Programme in Košice has provided mid-term accommodation to 119 people from Ukraine. The IOM Housing Assistance Programme was funded by the government of Japan.
Text & photos: Dušana Štecová, IOM Slovakia