A nice day and a nice place to stay at the old post office house. My window is on the top left and the Ukrainian family’s is on the top right.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY JC JOHNSON
I’m a city person. I love the pace, the noise, the endless barrage of things to look at. I love to study the skyline, the museums, the lights at night, the people. Typically, I’m not too fond of the countryside. But there’s something about Scotland, especially the Scottish Highlands.
I had just finished leading a group of American students to photograph in the U.K., where I was spending a lot of time in London. It was a wonderful time, but now I was on my own to visit my friend Lydia in Kirriemuir, Scotland. Besides the welcome exhaustion of the last 16 days of travel, my father had recently passed away and I was tired. I was grieving, and I was unclear about what my next step was going to be. I was looking for a place to disconnect from the stress of the last few months. I was looking for respite.
Lydia’s family hosted me in their home, a former town post office. They took me on a tour of the house as soon as I arrived to show me the updates since the last time I had been there. Over the next few days, I walked around photographing special spots throughout the house that I found inspiring. Since I had last visited, the kitchen peninsula had become an island; there was now seating overlooking the river, and my room upstairs had been updated.
“We’ve changed your room,” they told me. “It looks really nice now.”
As I looked at my comfortable room for the next four days, I was excited about the potential peace and relaxation I would get. The city sounds had been replaced by singing birds, a moving river, and fresh air. In that moment, I was not a city girl.
I looked through my door and across the hall to another door. Then I heard, “Oh, that’s where the Ukrainian family stays.”
The view through my door into the Ukrainian guests’ room. I love seeing slippers waiting for the woman’s return.
As soon as Lydia told me they were hosting Ukrainian refugees, I had a million questions. Multiple scenarios and the horrors of their situation went through my head. How long are they here? Did they lose their home? Did they watch someone die? My grief and my exhaustion stopped me from pursuing the answers. They were out of town and returning soon, so I let it go for the moment.
Eventually, I learned that a woman from Kyiv and her 8-year-old son were staying here to escape the violence and sounds of war. Even though her family was still in Ukraine, she needed to keep her son safe. He was suffering from trauma and night terrors, and the constant sounds of bombs and missiles every night had taken its toll. Apparently, you never knew which house might get destroyed each night. I felt glad they were coming back and would hear the birds sing again soon.
Sadly, I wasn’t going to meet them, but I decided it was better to let them rest and stay anonymous. It may have been selfish, but the thought of answering personal questions and reliving specific moments of my grief felt exhausting. I was happy to be somewhere that didn’t remind me of my sadness, so giving them the same space felt respectful.
The dogs barked and played outside. I was tired. The Ukrainian family must have been tired too.
View of their beds. My favorite part is seeing the little boy’s play area. The miniature Scottish flag and British phone booth are the best parts in that diorama.
Many of us read about the war in Ukraine, but it’s an enigma to us. It’s like knowing something important is on the other side of the wall, but all we can do is send messages under the door crack. Still, I found a few things we can do to help.
People from all over the world have united in their will to help Ukraine. The UNITED24 goal is to increase donations to Ukraine and ensure the efficiency and transparency of their distribution.
Nova Ukraine is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine and raising awareness about Ukraine in the United States and throughout the world.
The $1K Project Ukraine is a not-for-profit collective focused on directly connecting sponsors in the U.S. and around the world to help Ukrainian families impacted by the war. To make a donation please visit their sponsor page. For donations greater than $1K, they will share a photo and the story for each family you support.