It is packed on Saturday afternoon in the Haarlem Church of the Nazarene on the Zijlweg. Many Haarlemmers have accepted the invitation of the Ukrainians who celebrate their Orthodox Christmas there. The service is all about gratitude.

    “Thank you”, echoes through the church in Ukrainian and Dutch. Several choirs, including a children’s choir, perform during the service. Singing and celebrating Christmas gives the refugees a distraction from the big problems they are in. “It gives me a warm feeling and brings back beautiful childhood memories,” says Christina, who sings in the choir.

    Visitor Albert Bonnema enjoys the Ukrainian and English songs. “Very nice that they do this for us.” He himself takes care of a Ukrainian family in his house. Last summer they went back to Ukraine. “They missed the father and husband too much. Unfortunately, the country was still too unsafe and they returned.”

    Good feeling

    The family now lives with Bonnema again. “They are grateful for that, just like the other Ukrainians around here.” It gives him a good feeling that he can help these people. “We have arranged that the 5-year-old child can go to the same school as our own children. If that works out, you will be very happy,” concludes Bonnema, who can recommend helping others to everyone.

    The 11-year-old Maria is also in the audience where the service is fully enjoyed. She says it was her dream to compete in the Olympic Games. She fell apart when she had to flee. Fortunately, since she has arrived in the Netherlands, she can continue to dream. “After I fled, I do gymnastics here in the Netherlands every day. Many Dutch people help me with that, they are nice and smile at me.”

    Dreaming of a future

    Many of those present recognize the feeling of Mary. Although they are still in a nightmare, Haarlem is the place where they can continue to hope and dream. Or as Christina puts it: “I can dream of a future here, where we can celebrate Christmas independently and happily in Ukraine.”