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Phuketians helping displaced Ukrainians

PHUKET: A number of Phuket-based families have pitched in to help displaced Ukrainians flee the devastation ravaging their country.  

Saturday 9 April 2022, 09:00AM

From their home in Layan, Hugo and Coco de la Baume were so disturbed by the images they saw coming out of Ukraine that they were determined to do something to help. Hugo contacted the Ukrainian Red Cross and made a financial donation, and they told him what they desperately needed was help housing refugees. 

So Coco went online and discovered the Facebook site “Accommodation, Help & Shelter for Ukraine”, but with visas being needed to travel to the US and the UK most of the fleeing Ukrainians were being housed in Europe and Scandinavia.  

The de la Baumes have a summer home in Spain. Initially, they thought it would be too far away, but they offered it up anyway. 

Coco has a large home, so she didn’t want to just take one person or a couple, but she could take a family with pets or a small group. She ended up getting three women: two are good friends from Kyiv (Lena, a 56-year-old economics professor) and Elena (a 54-year-old translator), as well as Dacha, a 28-year-old petrol products trader they picked up along the way.  

Using the “Accommodation, Help & Shelter for Ukraine” site, the de la Baumes first connected with the trio as they crossed the Ukrainian-Slovakian border. The three women had filled up a Skoda with as many possessions as possible, five cats and a dog, and were hoping for the best. Elena even gave the keys to her apartment to a family fleeing the carnage in Chernihiv. 

The women were keen to go to Spain because they thought their chances of getting a job would be much greater in a place with fewer refugees.    

The drive from the Slovakian-Ukrainian border to Marbella, Spain, is 3,300km, too long for the three to be driving without a rest. So Coco offered her in-law’s home in Provence, France, to break up the journey. Coco’s mother-in-law, in her 80s, was skeptical at first, but once she met the three women, she insisted they stay for three nights as they were emotionally exhausted. 

Fully rested, the women then drove the final 1,500km to Coco’s house in southern Spain on the Costa del Sol where a full fridge and housekeeper were expecting them. Coco also arranged for a Russian friend to help take them around and get acquainted with the Marbella area. They have been in Spain for close to a month now and Coco says they are welcome to stay until the de la Baumes return in mid-June. 

So how is it going so far? “Dacha asked if she could read all the books in our library – you know they are good people, if they are asking about your books,” says Coco.  

Meanwhile, from their home on Coconut Island just off Phuket’s east coast, Warwick & Suzanne Downes sat transfixed at the images of Ukrainians fleeing the war zone and wanted to try and help.

So Suzanne went online and through reading The New York Times found a website organised by Harvard University students called “ukrainetakeshelter.com”. 

The site is like a “meet and match” site for Ukrainian refugees and people who are stranded and those willing to house them. You put up your details of what you can do, how many people you can take, if you can take pets, etc., and misplaced Ukrainians search the posts and contact who they think would fit well with.

A day after Suzanne posted her details, Serhii Sinchevskyi and Vika Artemenko saw her ad, contacted Suzanne and the next day she drove up to see them near Surin Beach, where they were staying in a small serviced apartment.    


Serhii and Vika come from Chernihiv City, the site of heavy fighting. The couple left for holiday in Phuket on Feb 13 and were supposed to fly back Mar 9. They were actually on Phi Phi Island when the invasion occurred, and made their way back to Phuket. They couldn’t fly home now even if they wanted to as their local airport has been badly damaged in the fighting, and there is no running water or electricity in their home. Serhii says every second building in their town has been bombed.   

The Downes have not just taken Serhii and Vika into their home, but they have made them feel at home as well, having meals with them and taking them around Phuket, trying to take their mind off the devastation in their homeland where their parents are still living. Serhii’s parents are still in Chernihiv District and Vika’s are in western Ukraine.

Serhii and Vika want to go back to Ukraine when the situation has improved. They are planning to fly to Warsaw in Poland, from where they will take a bus back into Ukraine.    

Serhii notes that if you would like to help Ukrainians in distress, this site is recommended: https://pnw.com.ua/en/

Holger Schwab and Helga Langer run Sea Bees Diving company, based out of Ao Chalong, and they have been in Thailand for 27 years. Shocked by the images of Ukrainians fleeing the war zone, they too wanted to see if they could provide any assistance.

Holger’s family comes from Oettingen, famous for its beer brewery, a small town of 6,000 people, 100km north of Munich. One of their tenants, Larissa, is Ukrainian and it was through her family that they came in contact with the family they are now housing, a grandmother, Larissa’s daughter and three granddaughters aged 10, 12 and 14.     

The Ukrainians arrived by train at the Munich train station where they were transported to Holger’s home.  

Helga says the girls are already in school and the German government is providing health insurance and a work permit to the mother if needed and they are welcome to stay in Helga’s home until late May or June when her family will head back to Europe.

They have a lot of friends living nearby, who are all helpful to either drop off food or make sure that they are ok.

These three families have stepped up and offered their homes to people in dire need. 

– Scott Murray

Scott Murray has been the Managing Editor at Dragon Art Media for more than 13 years. Dragon Art Media publishes the well-known magazine ’SEA Yachting’.

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