'It's just a little thank you. They've done so much for us. There are no words to describe it,' said one Ukrainian woman.
Ukrainian refugees who've been welcomed into European countries amid Russia's ongoing attack on their country have come up with a beautiful way to express gratitude to their hosts. In an impromptu campaign dubbed "subotnik"—a reference to an annual spring tradition in Ukraine when families gather to clean public spaces—Ukrainians have been cleaning up sidewalks, boulevards, monuments, parks and forests in their host nations. According to The Globe and Mail, the effort began in the town of Suwałki in northeast Poland when a group of refugee women asked local officials if they could do some kind of community service to show their appreciation for all the support they'd received.
UKRAJINA POMÁHÁ PRAZE 10— Renata Chmelová (@SenatorkaRenata) April 10, 2022
Oslovila mne naše ukraj. sousedka z Malešic, že Ukrajinci nám chtějí poděkovat za pomoc a rádi by uklízeli P10.
Přišlo jich víc jak sto!
Pustili se do toho s takovou vervou, že kontejner nestačil.
Všichni za vše děkují a přijdou zase.#StandWithUkraine pic.twitter.com/GwEEvBX0cG
"We wanted to repay the city and the people that live here for welcoming us," said Irina Koval, one of the women who started the first subotnik. "They gave us a home, food, clothes. We are happy that at least we can say thank you for it." With the city's permission, about 30 refugees spent hours on March 26 removing trash from Suwałki's biggest park and two major city boulevards. "The refugees came up with the idea of cleaning city parks," Kamil Sznel, a municipal official, reportedly wrote on Facebook. "The road workers handed over the equipment, and these Ukrainian women with their children started the action on Saturday morning."
The idea soon took off across Poland and even into other neighboring European nations that have taken in Ukrainian refugees. Earlier this month, a similar cleanup event took place in some municipal districts of Prague. "More than a hundred of them came!” Prague 10 Senator Renata Chmelová tweeted. "They did so with such vigor that the [waste] container was not enough." Meanwhile, according to Dobrogea Live, a group of refugees from Odessa, Ukraine, who are being hosted in the beach resort of North Mamaia in Romania, helped clean up the shore with gloves and garbage bags purchased with their own money.
Wiecie, że nasi Goście z 🇺🇦, którzy z powodu wojny znaleźli się w 🇵🇱, jutro organizują kolejny #subotnik? Czyli sprzątanie polskich miast w czynie społecznym. Chcą w ten sposób podziękować 🇵🇱 za ich gościnność i pomoc. https://t.co/rYAI6wLXKt pic.twitter.com/ED5qcuZnUR— Miasto Ursynów 💙💛 (@MiastoUrsynow) April 8, 2022
Ukrainians also gathered in the town of Poznan in early April to clear rubbish from the streets of the Śródka suburb, reports Evening Standard. Lena Bondarenko, a resident of the city for more than three years who recently welcomed her mother and sister to the area, said it was a way to say "thank you" to the country for providing them sanctuary. "We know that such cleaning once a week is probably not much," she said. "But we want to say thank you. We have been really well received in Poznan."
Similarly, dozens of war refugees from Ukraine gathered at three locations in Warsaw—the Kabacki Forest, the Bielanski Forest and the Rembertowski Forest—with their garbage bags in tow to collect paper, discarded cans and other debris. "It's just a little thank you," said Julia Kazarian, who was accompanied by her 11-year-old brother, as she bent over to pick up a piece of litter and toss it into the bag. "They've done so much for us. There are no words to describe it." Although there's no apparent organizer, many such subotnik activities now take place across Poland with the location of each cleanup posted on social media and spread by word of mouth.
Ukrainian refugees in Antalya, Turkey, organised a clean up.— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) April 12, 2022
One of the organisers, Kate Semerich says they did it:
-to thank Turkey for the hospitality
-to remind Ukrainians they are only guests and to treat Turks with respect
-to show Ukrainians are a European nation
"I wanted to do something for Poland," said Ola Maistrenko, who came to Warsaw last month from Kyiv with her 9-year-old son, her mother and her sister. She said she can't thank them enough after volunteers helped her find living essentials and a place to stay.