Pardubice, 26 June 2023 – The next creative workshop at the community centre for Ukrainian refugees in Pardubice, Czechia, is starting in more than an hour, but the participants have already gathered outside, chatting the afternoon away around a cup of coffee.

Some women are sharing the latest news from back home, many of them having left their husbands and family members behind when fleeing the war in Ukraine. Further down, some members are improving their Czech skills during language classes while others are waiting for their private counselling session to begin.

“In the beginning, there was nothing; we did not have a space of our own to hold events, so we relied on public spaces made available to us by the community,” recalls Marina, one of the coordinators at the Kalyna community centre.

Marina left Ukraine four years ago and has since found a home in Czechia where she currently works as an English teacher and centre coordinator. When the war in Ukraine escalated last year, she started volunteering as an interpreter at a support centre for Ukrainian refugees – work which she soon grew to love.

“After nearly three months, I realized that I was actually quite good at helping people,” she says.

The Kalyna community centre provides a variety of services such as counselling sessions and support for translations, visa issues, and doctor appointments. Photo: IOM/Anna Pochtarenko

A few months later, when she was offered a full-time position at the community centre, she was thrilled to be able to continue the good work she had started. “I feel that this is the place where all my ideas can come to life,” she says. “Working in this sector is very important to me, as it can have a huge impact on people’s lives.”

With support from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Czechia, the Kalyna community centre is now able to provide free counselling sessions for both children and adults and support them with translations, visa issues, and doctor appointments, among other things, but as Marina points out, this is not the centre’s main ambition.

“What makes this place unique is the fact that we have built a community which helps people connect. We offer them a place where they can communicate, spend quality time, and make friends.”

Marina recalls the trouble she had in organizing her first event at the centre. The four team members, all new to the project and each other, decided to organize a picnic for the Ukrainian community in less than 48 hours. Due to time constraints, Marina kept her expectations low, but the day of the event, 80 people showed up.

After leaving Ukraine, Katia and Marina have both found a home and calling in Czechia. Photo: IOM/Anna Pochtarenko

“One of the guests decided to conduct a spontaneous three-hour creative workshop for children and adolescents – and that’s how we met Katia,” Marina says, pointing at a cheerful young woman wearing a bright embroidered shirt. “The children love her and so do we,” Marina adds.

Back in Mykolayiv, Katia ran two development centres for children aged one to 16. When the missile attacks on her city started, Katia tossed a coin to decide whether to stay or leave.

“The coin decided so we hopped into our car and left everything behind,” she recalls. “It was an impulsive decision which turned out to be the right decision because soon after, the centre where I was planning on staying got hit.”

Before joining the community centre in her role as assistant teacher and counsellor, Katia ran two development centres for children in Mykolayiv, Ukraine. Photo: IOM/Anna Pochtarenko

Katia has since become a full-fledged team member at the Kalyna community centre where she currently works as an assistant teacher and counsellor, providing educational and recreational activities. She is especially proud of the women’s club she created – a place of exchange and support, as she calls it.

“We try to better understand our personal needs and how to tend to them; we offer and receive encouragement and help each other grow.”

The women now regularly share beauty tips, teach each other basic dance movements or provide general life advice. “Our participants have become our motivational speakers,” Katia says. “We all have our own hidden talents and we can learn from each other if given the opportunity.”

Marina says that each day she shows up at the centre gives her renewed proof of the power her community holds. A few weeks ago, when she was struggling to paint the walls in the children’s corner short of a ladder, a curious neighbour walked in to introduce herself. “It was a miracle; in half an hour we had a ladder,” Marina laughs.

“There is no need to go looking for the right people outside your community; they are right here and they are eager to help, share and contribute – so let them.”

Katia is proud of her work at the centre, which she sees as a place of exchange and support. Photo: IOM/Anna Pochtarenko

The Kalyna community centre has been provided with equipment and appliances, thanks to the support of the US State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Community workers at the centre receive intercultural training, thanks to support from the Government of Japan.

This story was written by IOM's communications team in Czechia. For more information, please contact

If you are interested in donating to Ukraine relief efforts, please visit IOM's fundraising page.

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