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About Mila

Mila operates a supermarket chain in Poland.

Mila Headquarter Location

Swietokrzyska 22

Wroclaw, 88-100,


+48 52 304 24 22

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‘I never imagined strangers could be so close’: five Ukrainian families on starting again in the EU

Mar 27, 2022

Millions who fled war in their homeland now face the challenge of rebuilding their lives. From Paris to Prague, we asked five families what the future holds Katerina Shukh, a psychologist from Mariupol, with her grandparents, Kateryna Nemenushyaya and Viktor Nemeenushiy, in Borzęcin Duży, Poland. Photograph: Anna Liminowicz/The Guardian Katerina Shukh, a psychologist from Mariupol, with her grandparents, Kateryna Nemenushyaya and Viktor Nemeenushiy, in Borzęcin Duży, Poland. Photograph: Anna Liminowicz/The Guardian Supported by Last modified on Sun 27 Mar 2022 06.57 EDT Since the first Russian bombs fell on 24 February, more than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine to seek safety abroad. As the violence inside their country escalates, all face an uncertain future and no idea of when they may be able to return. After crossing borders into neighbouring countries such as Poland, Romania and Moldova, hundreds of thousands have already moved further into the EU, where member states have given them the right to live and work for up to three years . For those who have watched the bloc’s tortured negotiations over how best to cope with the migration flow from Syria, the speed at which Europe has moved to welcome millions of Ukrainians is breathtaking. “We just have to think that for over seven years, the EU wasn’t able to reach a compromise on any of the significant reform proposals in asylum and migration policy. And in just over seven days, they managed to reach unanimous agreement on an instrument which had never been activated before,” says Alberto-Horst Neidhardt of the European Policy Centre in Brussels, referring to the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) of 2001, a hitherto unused measure designed to bypass normal asylum procedures. Having failed to invoke the TPD during the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015, or last year when millions fled Afghanistan upon the Taliban’s return, the EU now finds itself in uncharted territory. The plan is wide-ranging and highly ambitious: Ukrainian nationals – and permanent residents – fleeing the war are all entitled to a residence permit, access to the labour market, housing, healthcare and education for children. Given the scale of the refugee influx, turning this laudable theory into concrete support will not be straightforward. For now, millions of refugees, most of them women, children and elderly people, are grappling with the realities of starting new lives in new lands. A month after Vladimir Putin’s tanks rolled into Ukraine, from Slovakia to Spain, Prague to Paris, refugees are working out how to start from scratch. The TPD may not be an acronym they are familiar with, but they will all soon experience first-hand how effectively the EU is living up to its promises. The Guardian spoke to five families, in different countries, to see how they were getting on. Liudmyla Abdo at her youngest son’s apartment in Paris, where she lives after fleeing the war in Ukraine. Photograph: Sara Farid/The Guardian France In her seventh decade, Liudmyla Abdo has fled two wars. In 2016, she left Damascus, where she had lived with her Palestinian husband for 25 years, and where they had raised two sons, and headed for Kyiv. On 1 March this year, Abdo, now 67, was forced to flee again. This time as a widow, since her husband died shortly after arriving in Ukraine. On a sunny Saturday, Abdo sits on a bench in the Buttes-Chaumont park in Paris, taking in a magnificent spring day with her son, Nidal, 32. She still looks dazed, and says the stress about what is happening back home makes it difficult to adjust to her new life in France . She left Ukraine at night. “The whole city was black,” she says, “no cars, no taxis.” She carried nothing, aware that a suitcase could have slowed her down. She crammed on to a train from Kyiv to Lviv, then travelled to Hungary where her sons helped her get the last ticket on a plane to Paris. Along the way, people gave her water, food and medication. It is also the second time that Nidal, a dancer and choreographer , has worked furiously to get his mother out of a war zone. “She has little knowledge of the telephone, she had no internet and it was really complicated to talk to her,” he says. Nidal left Syria in 2010 to avoid military conscription. He jokes that being Palestinian, Syrian and Ukrainian is “the worst mix ever”. Liudmyla and her son Nidal in Paris. Photograph: Sara Farid/The Guardian More than 20,000 Ukrainians have arrived in France since the war began, according to the most recent government figures . Like the majority of them, Abdo is looking for somewhere to live. She is staying with her youngest son, whose apartment is slightly bigger than Nidal’s – though, this being Paris, no one has much space. The brothers recently accompanied Abdo to the immigration office in the early hours of the morning to get her a six-month protection visa. Fellow Ukrainians had been sleeping on the streets to secure their place in line. Now they are trying to help their mother start her life again. None of them know how long she will stay. Nidal had hoped his days of slogging through immigration paperwork were over – born a Palestinian refugee, he recently became a French citizen. But with the arrival of his mother, he’s back putting together a dossier, this time on her behalf. “I thought OK, now I’m French, I’ve done everything,” he says. “But now I’m starting the process of seeking asylum again, from zero.” Liza Zinova (left) with Maria Ustenko and her three-year-old daughter Mila in the village of Pchery Theodor, near Prague. Photograph: Bjoern Steinz/The Guardian Czech Republic Maria Ustenko had no idea where to go when she fled Kharkiv, her home city, with her three-year-old daughter Mila after Russian forces bombarded an aviation school near the home she shared with her parents. Having never travelled abroad, she had no passport, only a plastic Ukrainian identity card. Their arrival in the Czech Republic – where they are now living in a village near Prague airport along with eight other Ukrainian refugees – came after an epic journey on crowded train carriages, staying at makeshift refugee centres. After they crossed the border into Poland , they first intended to go to France and were then diverted to Berlin, where Ustenko and her daughter slept for two nights on the floor of a nightclub that had been turned into an emergency centre. Then Liza Zinova, her ex-husband’s cousin, learned of her plight by text and persuaded her to travel to Prague, buying bus tickets for the pair online. Maria Ustenko and her daughter Mila visit a playground close to their temporary home in the Czech Republic. Photograph: Bjoern Steinz/The Guardian Mother and daughter are finally able to smile. Photograph: Bjoern Steinz/The Guardian The Czech Republic – in common with several other countries – has cobbled together an emergency programme designed to meet the needs of the roughly 270,000 Ukrainian refugees it has so far received. But Ustenko’s primary support has been Zinova, 33, a Ukrainian-born Prague business owner who is hosting 10 refugees, including Ustenko and Mila, in the home she shares with her husband and their two children. I will try and make a life from zero here. I don’t want to go back to Kharkiv because the city is destroyed Maria Ustenko Wiping away tears at the recounting of Ustenko’s ordeal, Zinova says: “Hers is a very terrible story but it’s not the worst story I have heard. The experiences people have had are very individual. Of the four families staying with me, each has a totally different story of how they got out of that hell.” While some of her fellow refugees harbour hopes of returning home, Ustenko has other ideas. “I will try and make a life from zero here,” she says. “I don’t want to go back to Kharkiv because the city is destroyed.” ‘I begged my grandparents to come with me’: Katerina Shukh with her grandparents, Kateryna Nemenushyaya and Viktor Nemeenushiy, in Borzęcin Duży, Poland, last week. Photograph: Anna Liminowicz/The Guardian Poland “I begged my grandparents to come with me – I was on my knees,” says Katerina Shukh, a 26-year-old psychologist from Mariupol, who arrived in Poland with her four cats on 28 February in one of the first convoys of refugees from eastern Ukraine. At first her grandparents would not consider it – they did not want to leave their home and their village. Ten days later, they called her in tears. Their neighbours’ home had been bombed and they had no food or heating, “They told me on the phone, we were wrong,” she says, “Please take us.” Last Sunday, her grandparents joined Shukh in the small flat in Warsaw where she is being hosted by volunteers of HumanDoc , a Polish NGO, which is helping refugees find a place of shelter. “We are friends now,” she says of her hosts who live on the floor above. “During my first week here, we cooked borscht together. On weekends we eat dinner together. I have never imagined that strangers could be so close.” Ukrainian dolls brought to Poland from Mariupol by Shukh’s grandparents. Photograph: Anna Liminowicz/The Guardian Shukh and her grandparents are among two million Ukrainian refugees who have crossed the border into Poland . Since the Polish government announced that Ukrainian nationals are eligible for national identification papers, 70,000 refugees have applied. Shukh no longer plans to return home soon. “I have nothing to return to. My town is destroyed,” she says. But she is hoping to resume her old job as a psychologist, helping fellow refugees. When you are used to giving help, it is difficult to be the one receiving it, she says. When asked what she hopes for from her time in Poland, she says: “I hope for a simple life. To be able to come home from work and have dinner. And maybe go dancing on the weekend.” Olga Kuzminykh with her three-year-old daughter Alisa and mother Katerina, all now safe in El Espinar, Spain, last week. Photograph: Denis Doyle/The Guardian Spain Much of the Sierra de Guadarrama is lost in fog and rain as Faig Budagov looks out of the window in Castilla y León and explains how his family fled their home in Ukraine and ended up in Spain . “Although I lived in Kyiv for 20 years, I’m from Azerbaijan and I grew up by the sea,” says the 65-year-old former policeman “I’m always drawn to places where there’s sun and sea, and where the people are happy and free.” The family realised they had to leave Ukraine on 1 March, the day Russian missiles hit the TV tower in Kyiv and the nearby Babyn Yar memorial. Faig’s mother-in-law, Katerina Kuzminykh, lived in a flat close to the tower. “A family was killed out walking when the bombs hit, and we knew we had to get out,” says Kuzminykh, a 79-year-old retired teacher. “I still can’t keep the tears in.” Katerina joined her son-in-law, her daughter, Olga, and her granddaughter, Alisa, on the trains that took them from Kyiv to Warsaw. After waiting in a crowded refugee reception centre in the Polish capital, they managed to get aboard a Madrid-bound plane chartered by the Spanish NGO Mensajeros de la Paz (Messengers of Peace). They arrived in Madrid on 12 March and spent a week in a hostel before a Spaniard called Eduardo opened his home in El Espinar to them. In a note he had translated into Ukrainian, and which he handed the family when he met them, Eduardo explained that his mother and her siblings had left their home in Madrid after a bomb hit their neighbour’s house in the second year of the Spanish civil war. For two years, the family lived as refugees in Casablanca. Katerina, a retired schoolteacher, her daughter Olga, a primary schoolteacher, Olga’s husband, Faig Budagov, a retired policeman, and their daughter, Alisa, in their new Spanish home. Photograph: Denis Doyle/The Guardian “When the crisis began and the refugees started coming here, we got talking as a family about what we could do,” says Eduardo. “The story of my mum came up – and that was something my children didn’t know about. When my daughter heard about what had happened to her grandmother, she and my wife said: ‘Well, we have to do something’.” Katerina says her family has been helped every step of the way in Spain by local people who guided them through the refugee bureaucracy and managed to secure their ID papers within 24 hours. “We knew there were good people out there, but we didn’t know they were as good as the people who’ve welcomed us,” she says. Katerina, who walks with great difficulty, is delighted and grateful to have got to safety with her family. But tears, memories and grief are never far away. “People here have given us things we didn’t have in our own homes,” she says. “But we can’t be happy because we’re always thinking about what’s going on in our country right now, and what’s happening to all the people who have been left behind.” Alina Levchenko in Lisbon after fleeing war and arriving in Portugal a week ago. Photograph: Gonçalo Fonseca Portugal Alina Levchenko, 34, arrived in Portugal with her nephew, Seva, her sister, Kateryna Skrebtsov, 33, and their 60-year-old mother just over one week ago. They took a two-day bus from Poland and are staying with a host family they found on Telegram. The family of four share a room with their two cats, Cherry and Korzhik. “This is the second time we have fled Russian aggression,” says Levchenko, sitting in a coffee shop on the outskirts of Lisbon. The first time was when they fled their home town of Lugansk eight years ago. Then, they had several days to get their belongings together. “This time, we had two hours to collect our things.” Seva often asks his mother when they will be going home, and is constantly on the phone with his father, who stayed behind. “He knows what is happening, but we don’t show him all the news – he’s very sensitive,” she says. Fortunately, their Lisbon host family – a mother and two children – offer company and support as well as a roof over their heads while the family figure out what to do next. “We plan to visit our men who stayed in Ukraine – Seva’s father is there – and we hope we’ll see them soon,” says Levchenko. Kateryna Skrebtsov, 34 and her six-year-old son Seva in Odivelas, Lisbon, Portugal. Photograph: Gonçalo Fonseca Three days ago, they submitted their online application to Portugal’s Borders Service (SEF) for temporary protection. Through this, they will be entitled to a national health number, tax, and social security number. They have also found comfort in the knowledge that Portugal has a large Ukrainian community. Levchenko – who used to work for a company providing visa support to Ukrainian nationals seeking to live and work in the UK – is quick to note that Britain was not an option because of the complicated immigration process.

  • Where is Mila's headquarters?

    Mila's headquarters is located at Swietokrzyska 22, Wroclaw.

  • What is Mila's latest funding round?

    Mila's latest funding round is Acquired.

  • Who are the investors of Mila?

    Investors of Mila include Eurocash.

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