Butterfly Effect Shows Community Spirit To Ukrainian Refugees in Valencia

A chance happening led to unconditional generosity, a huge random act of love-drenched kindness and an outpouring of goodness, from a single, simple post. Eugene Costello was involved in the process of aiding Ukrainian refugees in Valencia, and found himself immeasurably touched when he met the key players in person…

The term The Butterfly Effect was first coined by the great American writer Ray Bradbury in his 1953 science fiction short story A Sound of Thunder. It is predicated upon the discovery of time travel. By 2055, Time Safari Inc is leading trips back to the Late Cretaceous period to hunt dinosaurs that would have died imminently. This is to cause minimum effect upon subsequent events. The adventurers are warned not to do anything, however tiny, that might change the distant future. 

On the trip, one walks off the designated path. Arriving back in 2055, the course of history has changed. It is at this point that a guide spots a crushed butterfly upon the sole of the adventurer’s boot. A tiny change in the fabric of time that has had disastrous and far-reaching consequences.

Recently, I experienced a minor, quotidian version of the Butterfly Effect that had a fantastic outcome.

In mid-April, I received a direct message from a Ukrainian lady who was in Valencia for a few days. She was with her son and daughter and the family dog. She said she had contacted me because I edit Valencia Life and she had read an interview I did with a Ukrainian refugee and a piece about how the owners of The Liverpool Bar in Ruzafa were taking in food and essentials parcels for the displaced Ukrainian refugees in Valencia.

She wondered if I knew anyone who could put them up for two nights before they headed back to Ukraine.

I posted in a couple of groups and a lovely chap living in Canovas called Peter got in touch with me. He agreed to put them up.

And then the magic started to happen…

Some weeks later, he sent me a lovely photo of the family, saying that they had stayed on and are showing their appreciation by cooking the couple Ukrainian meals – which, he said, were delicious. And he said that it had become an open-ended invitation, that the family could stay as long as they wanted.

So a week or so later, on one of the first sunny afternoons to hit Valencia, I arranged to meet Svitlana Chaurova, the lady in question, and her children. Peter would join us afterwards. We met at a coffee shop on Gran Via Marques del Turia, near Peter’s flat, close to the Puente de Aragón (Pont d’Aragó in Valenciano).

I walked up there from Ruzafa with my chocolate labrador, Gili, basking in the sunshine. I will admit that I had a slight sense of trepidation that I never normally feel prior to doing an interview. Perhaps it was because this small act had had such far-reaching consequences, and had literally changed their lives. 

At the café, Svitlana Chaurova, an attractive and slim blonde of 40 with piercing cobalt eyes, arrived with her daughter Anna, 14, and Fedir, nine. They were so happy and smiling that all nervousness left me and we began to chat.

Svitlana’s story: Leaving Kyiv

Lana, as she prefers to be called, told me that when they took the momentous decision to abandon their home city, it was in the dark days of the war when, although Kharkiv, Lviv and Mariupol were receiving the worst of the saturation bombing by the Russians, Kyiv was not escaping unharmed.

“They were raining bombs down on and around Kyiv,” says Lana. “And sometimes they would drop items that looked like toys so that children would pick them up but they were mines and would kill and destroy all around.

“We also heard of cameras attached to the hubcaps of cars that would act as eyes for the Russians, giving them targets. We did not know who around us were on our side and who were spies for the Russians. It was hell, and the destruction all around was unbelievable, like something from World War II.

“We heard explosions in the morning in Kyiv, gathered the necessary things and went out of town to the Zhytomyr region. There was fighting nearby, in Makariv, Zhytomyr, Gastomil.  We were blocked for eight days, there was almost no communication and scarcely any food.  As soon as we were able to leave, we went to our relatives in Vinnytsia, where the Russians bombed the airport.

“We were so scared that we decided to go to Poland. We were saved by our friend at the Cifers Foundation as soon as she learned that we were able to leave the Zhytomyr region. Anastasia, her real name, picked us up at night from the distribution centre at the border and brought us to a hostel in Warsaw. She and her husband Luther supported and helped us in everything.  We spent a month with our Ukrainian-American family.  We drew, studied, and discussed the situation in our native Ukraine together. We will remember this kindness and support for the rest of our lives. We are infinitely grateful for everything.

“Anastasia Sayers is my friend from Ukraine and her husband is American, they helped Ukrainian people in Warszawa and bought ammunition for the soldiers. And they created in America a charity fund to support Ukraine.”

Lana remains cheerful, and could be talking about another city, not her home where they had built up happy and successful lives. Lana had a successful career as a freelance marketing consultant, having worked with major brands including UEFA and UKAFLORA. She was a specialist in social media campaigns, so this was a stark example of happy and fulfilled lives being crushed on the wheel of Russian aggression and expansion. Far from the stereotyped image of refugees as being only the poor and dispossessed.

Anna is a bright, pretty 14-year-old, with interested and amused grey eyes, and Fedir is a normal nine-year-old, but very polite and does not interrupt while his mother is talking. I compliment Anna on her English.

Lana leans forward and says, “You know, you must understand that before this nightmare, we had great lives in Kyiv. I had lots of work, and my country places great importance on education, so of course Anna speaks good English, she worked hard, that is the culture. We also arranged out-of-school activities such as horse-riding for Anna. She works hard at dancing and acting classes, that is her dream. Or was, until all this happened.”

Then the smile returns. “Though to be truthful, she is more interested in Marvel and DC comics!”

Sure enough, Anna is wearing a T-shirt with legends from her beloved comics.

I ask Anna how life in Valencia is. 

“I love it here,” she says. “I have school classes online till 2pm, then we go out for a walk. It is so pretty here. And I have become good friends with Peter and Ryan’s daughter, Tiffany. She is 15, and we get on really well. We love to hang out when she gets back from school.”

I admire Anna’s dark-green fingernails and she smiles shyly, telling me she had just had them done that day.

Where is Lana’s husband, I ask? 

“We are no longer together,” she says, matter-of-factly, “but he is a very good father to these two. He is working as a volunteer in Kyiv, helping out following bombing raids, transporting people and their effects around the city.”

I ask how she came to get in touch with me, and she tells me of another small instance of the Butterfly Effect.

“I love football, and support Dynamo Kyiv. In 2018, Liverpool came to Kyiv for the Champions’ League final against Real Madrid [next Sunday, the two teams will be the first to face each other again in a Final].

“I met many Liverpool fans and they were so friendly and welcoming that I formed a love for the club. After we left Poland, we tried Portugal but decided to try Spain. So when I arrived in Valencia, I looked up to see if there were any Liverpool fans living here and found the Facebook page for The Liverpool Bar.

“They had shared some articles that you had written about helping people from Ukraine so I decided to be cheeky and send you a message. I could not believe it when you responded – and I was shocked in an amazing way when you told me that someone had offered us to stay in their home!

“It has been like a dream. We are so happy and feel so welcome. Thank you.”

You can read those pieces here: https://valencialife.es/ukrainian-appeal-in-valencia-by-liverpool-bar-in-ruzafa/ and here: https://valencialife.es/valencia-welcomes-refugees-from-the-bloody-war-in-ukraine/

Now this happy trio have to leave to catch a train to Madrid. They are going to arrange a TIE, and Ukraine help groups have advised them that the process is far quicker by going to the capital.

I watch the three of them, kids either side with their arms around their mum laughing as they walk off in the sunshine and await Peter Smith, their host and benefactor, who arrives a few moments later.

Peter, a rock of Valencia

Peter arrives, impeccably dressed in branded casual wear, sporting Ray-Bans with his salt-and-pepper hair slightly spiked and backcombed into something approaching a quiff. Peter has an easygoing and empathetic manner. He sits down and appears instantly at ease.

Says Peter: “First of all, I want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to do this amazing thing. It has brought us such happiness. They are a wonderful family and being given the chance to do something so special has been a real gift.”

Peter, 53, explains that they moved to Valencia four years ago from Seattle, Washington State. He moved here with husband Ryan, 47, and their daughter Tiffany, now 15.

The couple have a property management and real estate company back in Seattle – in fact, Ryan is there as we speak, taking care of business – so they have a somewhat longer commute than most who have chosen to make their home here.  

“I wouldn’t change a thing, though,” says Peter. “Our life here is amazing. We love our flat and the way of life, the climate is amazing – Seattle is deadly in the winter – and the costs are far lower here.”

Talk turns to Lana and her family. Peter tells me: “They really are amazing, lacking in bitterness, happy and grateful for everything.”

I tell Peter it is quite extraordinary that after agreeing to put them up for two nights, here we are weeks later and they appear to have become a settled part of his home and family.

“They are so easy to have around,” he says, “and it has brought us great pleasure to be able to do so. Usually, we are the welcoming committee for members of the LGBT+ community in the US moving to Valencia so we are used to having people around. And we are completely charmed by the three of them.”

He muses that it has touched something within them.

“You know, they have been through war so they deserve a good break. I suppose at some level, I hypotheised that our daughter, being the daughter of a same-sex couple, had had her difficulties and sense of being ’othered’ growing up in the States. So to show Tiffany that many people have been through far worse is not a bad lesson in life, I guess!”

Somehow, Anna’s nails come up in conversation, and he starts to laugh.

He tells me: “Last night after dinner, Anna said she wanted to do it and discussion turned to what colour she wanted. She was adamant that she wanted green so we were asking, yeah, but what shade of green? Eventually, Lana shaved some of the skin of a cucumber off and placed it over a fingernail. 

“Anna was like, that’s exactly the shade! So I am glad she is happy. Also, she is very keen to stress that these nails, although long and pointed, are natural. She’s like, no shellac here!” he adds with a laugh.

The picture he paints (and photos he shares) of the six of them together suggest a happy, fun, easygoing and love-saturated household. 

It is almost the corollary of the famous opening lines of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Peter, Ryan and Tiffany, with Lana, Anna and Fedir have rewritten that sentiment.

Now it should be something like: “Happy families are uniquely happy. And each ‘family’ can be made up however you wish – all you need is love.”

The Butterfly Effect from Graham, Pierre and Yohe

So there we go. A love story, in its truest sense.

Little needs to be added.

I will simply tell a couple of final things that make me proud to be part of the incomer community in our beautiful, adopted city, and to see how welcome Ukrainian refugees in Valencia really are.

First, we profiled Graham Tyner of Settle Easy. Another American, Graham’s partner is Rissana Shytu, a Ukrainian from Lviv: https://valencialife.es/valencia-local-heroes-ukraine-community-centre-dynamos-graham-tyner-and-rissana-shytu/

They have set up an emergency centre in El Carmen where they hand out clothes, food, toys and books to Ukrainian refugees in Valencia. Seriously good people who do it for no reward or recognition, simply to help.

Ukraine help centre, El Carmen
A community resource: Graham and Rissina’s Help Ukraine Centre in El Carmen

A week ago, I met up with Lana, Anna and Fedir. We went first to see Pierre and Yohe at Blondes, Brunettes and Redheads salon near Ruzafa. Pierre and Yohe offer complimentary haircuts to Ukrainian refugees in Valencia, so we booked Lana and Anna in for Friday. They wanted their hair colouring – this does not come complimentary since the colourants come at a price. So we agreed that I would cover the costs so the treatment could be free for Lana and Anna. We booked them in for Friday just gone, then headed up to El Carmen to meet Graham and see the shop.

An hour later we left, with two bags of clothes and essentials, plus a toy for Fedir.

And on Friday, the ladies went for their treatment. It was a huge success.

Says Pierre: “While they were in for their pampering, one of our lovely clients, Sheila West, stopped in for a fringe trim and gave us two envelopes to pass forward to refugees of our choosing so we handed one to Anna.

“The look of shock and happiness on their faces was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever witnessed! These people have been through so much and were so, so touched and overwhelmed by so many strangers’ kindness and generosity.

“This was one of our best days in Valencia so far.

“We live in Paradise amongst so many amazing, kind and beautiful expats.

“Thank you all for making the difference to these people’s lives.

“We also had another guy – also called Eugene – add €5 to his bill to pass on.

“This is amazing. Thank you.”

And Lana dropped me a note to say, “I am so happy. It was so cool!”

Then she added, “You are really my angel in Valencia. Thanks God for meet with you.”

Ukrainian refugees in Valencia
Princesses don’t always have thrones: Lana following her treatment from Yohe

I am not the angel. Far from it. But luckily I am surrounded by people who act in an angelic way. People such as Peter, Ryan, Tiffany, Graham and Rissana, plus, of course, Pierre and Yohe.

Oh, and by the way, this final “butterfly effect”, courtesy of Pierre and Yohe, makes me think of this beautiful quote from the inspirational Maya Angelou:

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly – but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” 

  • Complimentary haircuts for Ukrainian refugees in Valencia – by appointment only, Tues, Weds, Thurs; Blondes, Brunettes and Redheads Hair Studio; Carrer de Lluís Oliag, 79, 46006 Valencia; WhatsApp, +34 654 89 05 99
  • Volunteers, donors and Ukrainian refugees in Valencia can come Tuesdays from 12:00 – 15:00; Wednesdays from 10:00 – 13:00; Fridays from 14:00 – 18:00; Saturdays from 12:00 – 14:00; to the Ukraine Community Centre at Carrer del Pintor Zariñena, 5, 3, 46003, Valencia; WhatsApp +34 684 300 926; graham@settle-easy.es

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