When Yaroslava had to leave Ukraine and head to the safety of Italy, one month after the war broke out, alongside her father and sisters, she did not speak a word of English or Italian. Little did she know that her journey would take her to new places and introduce her to new international friends, with the help of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award.

Here is her story in her own words:

“When I arrived here in Italy I thought the scenery was beautiful, but I couldn’t understand anybody, I was scared, I spoke no Italian or English. We were staying altogether in the Abbazia, in Santa Fede, just outside Turin: By day I would help my dad and play with all the kids but at night I was so sad and I would cry.

“To begin with journalists would come to interview my dad.  I stood behind the scenes and listened, but by the end of his speech, I could not hold back my tears, because I realised that this was not a dream… I really was in another country, thousands of kilometres away from my friends and mother, because I had to, and not because I wanted to.

“We stayed there for about 3 months, I continued to study online at my university in Kiev thinking we would return there after a few months. Whilst we were there I met Rachel, who is running the award at her independent centre in Italy.  The centre was volunteering and running the logistics for the temporary home in the abbey of Santa Fede.

“Eventually we moved back to Settimo, just outside Turin, and I managed to get back into contact with Rachel. I spent all my time helping her at her outdoor education centre with her horses and I was able to finally start my Award experience!

Ukrainian refugees arriving in Italy

Forty arrived at four in the morning, expected by the small town of Cavagnolo whose residents brought food and gifts. They are mothers with children, and unaccompanied older children whose parents have trusted them to take this journey of salvation alone.

They arrive from the border with Poland after a thirty-hour journey. The Abbey of Santa Fede welcomes these mothers and children fleeing war and the Siloe Community has opened the doors of the guesthouse of Cavagnolo, in the spaces adjacent to the Abbey of Santa Fede, to house up to 50 women and children.

The youngest child is 18 months old, while a 17-year-old girl travels alone to embrace her mother who lives in Mortara. Two sisters accompany their elderly mother and seven children, a family has also rescued the dog. Around the Community, the Salesian Alumni Association Unione di Cavagnolo, Into the Wild and Rachel’s Learning Centre have been activated, coordinating many volunteers. The women who have been hosted will stay for a couple of days for the first reception, while the children draw and start some schooling. Then everyone will go to the families with whom they have contact and who will host them.

– La Republica, Italy

“My adventure journey was an amazing experience with gorgeous views. We made fire to cook our food and the whole experience was so nice.  

“In parting, Rachel gave us red thread bracelets that reminded us of the time we spent together.  It was a very important bracelet for me.  

That day, looking at the fire and the mountains, my bracelet suddenly broke.  I wanted to cry, but as soon as I told Rachel about it, she took her bracelet off her other hand and gave it to me. For me, it’s a sign that a new chapter in the book of my life has begun.

“On the way home, Rachel and I talked about the situation in Ukraine and that my mother had to stay to help get aid to the soldiers on the front lines who are risking their lives every day for us.  

“I ended up living in Biella and staying at Rachel’s home too, so I continued to help out at the Rachel’s Learning Centre when I could, where there are 15 other Ukrainian young people who are being sponsored through friends, and some entirely for free through our centre. She suggested that I go with her to a meeting she was having with the Headmistress of the private School and University in Turin, the Vittoria International school. Rachel told the Headmistress my story and my desire to change courses from TV journalism to linguistics.  To which, in response, she offered me to study at her university absolutely free of charge.

“This Award is very important for us because everyone who left their home wants to feel that we are not alone, that we are also part of society, that we have friends and opportunities. It is very important for everyone who knows what war is – to understand that there is light and goodness in the world.  I am sure that every Ukrainian who has the opportunity to be in this programme will see the same thing that I saw.  We will write different stories, it is only important that we see something good, especially after the horrors that we saw back home.”