By Anne-Sophie Hourdeaux
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Céline and Frédéric live in Odomez, near Saint-Amand-les-Eaux and Valenciennesin the North. For two months, they hosted Olga and her Ukrainian family, but also their 12 cats!
Arriving in France in April 2022, Olga’s family was able to count on the welcome of this cat-breeding couple, before finding a house to rent in Ferrière-la-Grande in June 2022. How did this solidarity go? ? We found them together, because friendships continue.
Their love of cats brings them together
Céline Blaise and Frédéric Brihaye love animals. They have four dogs and about twenty cats. In particular, they saved several mistreated Spanish dogs, the Podenco. In addition to their professional activities, they are Scottish and Highland Fold and Straight breeders (ears folded and erect).
Nothing implied that they were going to host a Ukrainian family they barely knew for several months. It was their love of cats that brought them into contact with Olga, herself a breeder of the same breed of cats.
A first contact via Facebook
Céline Blaise explains: “I was in contact via Facebook with Olga, Scottish’s Ukrainian farms are renowned. In our sector, we were aware of the solidarity with Ukrainethere have been departures of trucks with foodstuffs there, in particular thanks to the Maxime butcher’s shop in Bruille-St-Amand ”.
Through the social network, Céline learns that Olga and four members of her family, with their cats, have took the road to Romania. “They hoped to settle in Italy, but it fell through” (see box).
When the owner of the accommodation in Romania told them to leave, Céline and her companion Frédéric did not hesitate: “We told them to come to France, and that we would accommodate them! » In 48 hours, it takes find beds, rearrange the house to accommodate five more people: Olga, her mother, her sister-in-law and her son… plus 12 cats!
Olga, Ukrainian: “I didn’t expect so much help!”
Olga drove 3,000 kilometers with her family to escape the bombardments in Ukraine. Out of the question to leave without his 12 cats, then, the car was well loaded! Leaving kyiv at the beginning of March 2022, she stayed in Romania for several weeks. Olga told us about her situation in English. “I had a proposal in Italy for accommodation, but in the end it was cancelled. I didn’t want to go to France initially, it was much too far, I had a small car…”
But in the end, it is in France that Olga and her family find a solution.
“Without Céline and Fred, I had nowhere to go. Few people would have done what they did! Especially since we only knew each other through Facebook… I didn’t expect so many assistance.”
Arrived in Odomez at the beginning of April 2022, the five Ukrainians stayed two months in Céline and Fred’s house, before finding independent accommodation. “I sent 100 requests for a house, I had a lot of refusals.” Finally, at the beginning of June 2022, it is near Maubeuge that she settles with all her family.
In Ukraine, Olga worked for an American mobile app and website company, she considers herself lucky, she has always been able to continue working and is pursuing this job from France.
The future ? “I don’t think about it. My life is today and tomorrow, no more.” Since then, the family has been able to welcome a new member, Olena’s 6-year-old granddaughter, into their new home.
“You should know that in Ukraine, many animal breeders have gave their animals to the border to save themor died with their animals under the bombardments because they did not want to leave their breeding”, points out Céline.
She and her companion opened their house wide for strangers, without conditions.
Many administrative procedures
How was this incredible welcome? Relations between the two families were immediately warm. “We had a lot of small Ukrainian dishes. We also did outings togetherwalks in the countryside, local concerts…”, explains Frédéric.
We also had to do a lot of administrative procedures for Olga’s family, who didn’t speak French at all.
We took them everywhere, the prefecture, the doctors… We looked for a translator. It’s an obstacle course when you don’t speak French to assert your rights, even to open a bank account.
He adds: “Our Ukrainian friends have shown a lot of resilience…”
The northern couple also finds that behind the fine speeches of aid to Ukrainians in France, actions are lacking. They didn’t get as much support as they might have thought. They would like to thank those who were up to it: the Maxime butcher’s shop, the Red Cross, the Restos du Cœur in Fresnes-sur-Escaut.
A house, after 100 files!
The looking for a house was also on the program, and it was complicated: more than 100 requests left unanswered or refused. Céline and Fred even say they are shocked by certain reactions. “When people knew it was for Ukrainians, they said no right away, they didn’t want not help strangers… It’s sad”, regrets Céline.
But there were other outbursts of solidarity that warmed their hearts, especially for food, humans and cats.
Eventually a home was found near Maubeuge, the couple from Valenciennes stood surety. We had to find furniture, make the move. “We would never have had a house without Céline, she’s wonderful,” says Olga, in perfect English.
” That’s life “
Céline and Frédéric know one thing: that this solidarity does not stop. ” That’s life, we can’t leave them. We stay in touch, we see each other as often as possible being an hour away by car. »
In June 2023 is already planned a photo exhibition of Olga and Céline’s cats in Roubaix, during the 2nd animal fair. The idea came from Lucile Devlaeminck, who knows Céline and Fred and their animals well, because she intervenes there for animal communication. “This solidarity is rare, it’s a feat,” she points out.
We would like to know what the Ukrainian cats think of this journey!
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