When news of the war in Ukraine first started coming in, I was still back home in India. It was hard for me to believe that in this day and age war on this scale could even be an occurrence. I was to move to Europe in a few months and I numbed myself to the fact that the war could have any tangible effect on my move. In the months leading up to the time that I was to fly, friends and relatives kept asking me how far the Czech Republic was from the warzone. My reply was usually "far enough" even though I wasn't completely sure.
I moved there with my family and the only effect we personally felt was the housing shortage that was exacerbated by the many refugees coming over from Ukraine. Many homeowners were even offering housing as a compassionate gesture. The country was even offering them a special rapid visa to allow them to settle in. At the time I never realized what it truly means to leave a country by choice and being forced to.
It has been a year since all this started. I took my son to the play area in our apartment block a couple of days ago. There was another younger kid who was having a great time there and eventually he and my son started playing together. His father was around as well and while we watched our kids play, we got talking for a bit. I had wrongly assumed that he was a local but soon learnt that he was from Ukraine and that they had arrived after the war. We stay in a nice residential area and in my head my assumption was that after staying here they would have been reasonably okay. His English was limited but enough to convey and understand each other well enough.
When I asked him how he finds it here he replied quite sadly that he wants to go back home desperately but still cannot due to the war situation. He proceeded to elaborate through words and gestures that while he was in Ukraine, he had a white-collar office job and here is reduced to some kind of manual labor that involves shoveling. Then he shrugged sadly indicating how much they really had to give up. At the end of the day, while it is true that they escaped mortal danger, it came at the cost of accepting the change in the very nature of their existence.
Up until this time I had never encountered anyone directly affected by a war in this way. I chose to come here, and I always have the freedom to go back when home tugs at your heart. Freedom is ultimately, not a singular all-encompassing word. Sometimes you don't realize what it means until it is taken away from you.