A Young Ukrainian Girl’s Holiday in France.
This summer, my partner, Valerie, and I decided to give a holiday to a child from the Ukraine.
You will recall that the Ukraine is a poor country in eastern Europe where, 20 years ago now, there was the frightful nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. Everyone in the vicinity of this accident was contaminated by radioactivity, resulting in many diseases and other serious physical problems.
20 years later, the children of Chernobyl continue to suffer in various ways and need to go to an unpolluted environment every year in order to breathe clean air and consume uncontaminated food, so we offered a month’s holiday in France to one little girl.
We contacted an association which helps these children to come to France. This year, 200 Ukrainian children were given an opportunity to stay for either a month or two months in our country.
|The young girl who was allotted to us was Yevgenia, who was eight years old. She settled in very quickly as she is a very lively little soul and is very happy to be with us. She had no difficulty adapting herself to our way of life and adores eating in MacDonalds and drinking Coca Cola, these items being considered capitalist products in her home country.We immediately encountered a language problem. You see, neither Valérie nor I speak or write Russian, and Yevgenia spoke neither French nor English. To begin with, it was very difficult, despite a small dictionary of about 100 words and expressions which we had been given by the association. It gave such things as, “It is now time to eat,” and “It’s time to go to bed,” but that was about all, so we had to do the best we could. However, the association gave us the phone number of an interpreter, whom we called from time to time when things got particularly difficult and we couldn’t understand for the lives of us what our little guest wanted.||
Yevgenia was absolutely fascinated by everything she saw about her, finding our country and our way of life completely different from what she was accustomed to. We discovered that her parents, between them, earn less in a month than a similar worker in our country earns in a day.
|Valérie and I did our best to provide Yevgenia with a happy holiday, and it was beautiful indeed to behold the uninhibited joy in her sparkling eyes as she saw things she had never experienced before. And there were so many things for her to discover! You see, she’d scarcely been out of her village before, and these country people had never been to the sea. So we took her to amusement parks, the local swimming pool, the sea, the woods, the theater… It was all such a breathtaking experience for her and she never wanted to leave the swimming pool. I can assure you that this month is a period in our lives that we’ll never forget. And we are sure that the young Yevgenia will remember her holiday in France for the rest of her life.||
But, of course, the day for her to leave us came round with the inevitability of time. I have to admit that we both cried a little when the bus left and we could see Yevgenia’s radiant face no longer. We couldn’t do anything about it, of course, but at the back of our minds was the fact that she would be returning to a poor country where she would have no opportunity to see the sights that we had shown her in France. However, we were happy because we knew she would soon be with her own parents who loved her so much again, and we knew she was looking forward to that reunion.
|To help remember us and her stay in France, we bought her a lot of presents including a Barbie school bag, of which she was very proud. We were struck that this present, whilst being virtually insignificant to the average French child was of great value to this little Ukrainian girl.Of course, we continue to keep in contact with Yevgenia and her parents. She calls us her ‘French parents’, and she writes to tell us that she has the nicest school bag in her school, and that all her classmates are very envious. She is very keen to come back to France again next year. If she does, we will do our level best to give her the best possible time. We are so happy to be able to give such happiness to another young human being.|
– Franck Thilliez
Lens, Pas-de-Calais, France.