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Viktoriia and Polina explore Switzerland

Victoriia and Polina on the shores of lake of Neuchâtel. Gaby Ochsenbein

Viktoriia Bilychenko and her daughter Polina have been exploring the lakes and mountains in Switzerland. It’s a welcome distraction from the war in their homeland.

This content was published on June 7, 2022 - 10:23

Until the end of May, refugees from Ukraine could use Swiss public transport free of charge. Viktoriia and Polina, who came to live with me from the city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, used the opportunity to get to know their host country better.

They have travelled to the picturesque town of Thun, walked along the shores of Lake Neuchâtel, and visited the the Abbey Library of Saint Gall. They have also been to Lake Oeschinen in the Bernese Oberland, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in the Alps.

They weren't the only ones at this mountain lake. Sladusha

We travelled to Zermatt together. From the window of the Matterhorn-Gotthard train, Viktoriia took photos and videos of the impressive gorges and rock formations. Her daughter, meanwhile, was busy looking at her mobile phone – a pity really, but I guess I also preferred reading comics to admiring nature at that age.

As a big fan of Swiss chocolate, Viktoriia really wanted to see the Matterhorn, which is depicted on the distinctive Toblerone box. She bought a bar at the railway station in order to pose in front of the world-famous mountain. Unfortunately, the summit of the Matterhorn was shrouded in clouds that day – but it was still beautiful.

A good Toblerone advertisement. Sladusha

The mother and daughter are trying to make the best of a difficult situation. They are not here by choice. They are not tourists, and this is not a holiday for them.

On the whole, we have now settled into a comfortable routine. Polina, who is 11 years old, goes to school every day, and she is working hard on her German vocabulary. She even scored full marks on her first test. In a further achievement, she overcame her initial fear and successfully made it around the ropes course at an adventure park in Bern, during the birthday party of a Ukrainian classmate and neighbour.

She did it! Polina swings through the trees in Bern's "Ropepark". Gaby Ochsenbein

Viktoriia is also making progress in German. She attends German lessons twice a week, alongside her work as an IT coach.

In early May she received sad news. A 28-year-old colleague, who had trained with her last year, had been killed. He was the first victim of the war who she knew personally, and one of the many thousands who have lost their lives, leaving behind their families and loved ones – in Ukraine, but also in Russia.

Viktoriia has been very worried about her brother. Despite having no military training, he volunteered to defend his country. In mid-May he was called up. As the actual reporting day drew closer, his sister grew more and more anxious. She learned, with huge relief, that he had not been accepted – much to his frustration. Now he is on the reserve list.

On the last Friday of May, Viktoriia’s mother – who has been working in Jarocin in western Poland since the start of the war – wanted to travel to Switzerland for the day. She was ready to undergo a 12-hour coach journey of 1,000 kilometres in order to spend just a few hours with her daughter and granddaughter in Zurich, as they had not seen each other for more than three months. They had been looking forward to the day immensely, and were all the more disappointed when the whole trip was cancelled, as too few people had signed up for it.

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