HE Travel delivers amazing tours around the world through our rich network of partners. These local companies and guides know their home region well, and together we create our unique tour itineraries.
Fellow National Tour Association member Discover Slovakia Tours is the long-time partner for our Capitals of Central Europe tour to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and the Czech Republic. They offer music and agricultural tours, as well as cultural experiences such as our tour.
Their owner Marcela Laukova is a good friend who personally greets each of our tour groups. She lives near Zvolen, Slovak Republic. Following is her story about her family welcoming two refugees from Ukraine to their horse farm and rural community.
After almost 2 years of coexistence with COVID, when it looked like better times were coming, an unexpected morning came. On February 24, 2022, the war in Ukraine began.
Chaos in Ukraine
When I woke up that morning in the middle of Slovakia, in the heart of Europe, we couldn’t believe the news that just went on TV. With great fear and chaos in my head, I felt as dazed as on September 11, 2001. Like at that time, I was unable to understand how, out of nowhere, can bombs explode and buildings fall. After all, Ukraine is much closer to us than the USA.
The first two weeks were very quiet and constricting at work, both in the office of the incoming tour operator (host for HE Travel’s Capitals of Central Europe tour) as well as at our family horse farm. With the regularity of Swiss watches, helicopters flew over our roofs, monitoring the borders of our state, a NATO member country. That was decisive for me in those days. We live in Slovakia, a member country of the EU and NATO, and that made us believe that nothing can happen to us.
As the days passed and the situation in Ukraine did not change… me, my family, our employees, my friends, simply all of us were constantly on our phones, e-mails, and social networks, trying to find out if this is not just a very bad hoax. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Hundreds and thousands of Ukrainian mothers with children began to flow through the Schengen borders and needed our help. The power of human will and willingness to help was enormous in those days. Slovaks offered their unoccupied cottages, houses, and rooms in apartments for free accommodation. Many also organized numerous collections of food, hygienic products, clothes, and money to help those who lost one of the most essential things in our lives … their HOME!
Welcoming Ukrainian Refugees to our Horse Farm
We also wanted to help as much as possible, so we welcomed two women from Ukraine to our horse farm in Zvolen (Central Slovakia). They found their new homes at our place. Nobody knows, maybe it is temporary living, maybe their new permanent home.
Masha, the Equestrian Expert
Maria Kalentieva, we call her Masha, came from Kharkiv, one of the first Ukrainian cities to come under attack. This 35-year-old woman was lucky enough to have a brother already in Slovakia. For more than 2 years, he has lived and worked in the centre of Slovakia, in the city of Zvolen.
Masha had a challenging journey from Kharkiv, which is more than 1300 km (about 800 miles) away from the Slovak border. For better imagination, the distance is almost like the journey from Toronto to Nashville. She is staying with her 13-year-old daughter in her brother’s small apartment. One day, she knocked on our door at the family farm and asked for a job … with horses. She had studied to become an architect. However, after 3 years of working with 3D models, she decided she was more enchanted by animals, so she completely changed her professional career. For the next 3 years, she worked as a horse instructor at Ekopark Kharkiv. Nowadays, she works for us, on a family horse farm in the middle of Slovakia and she is one of the best employees we have. We hope she stays with us for a long time!
Olga, the Street Food Entrepreneur
After a few more weeks, Olga Avksentieva came to us. Olga is 54 years old and used to manage a hotel and restaurant in Odessa, a beautiful city on the Black Sea coast. After a decision to leave Ukraine, it took her several days to reach us by bus. She had to travel almost the same distance as Masha. Olga is at the moment staying in a small guesthouse near our horse farm. Together we came up with a project of a street food buffet with special local beer on tap – Koštovka! Welcome Olga and feel good with us!
This is just a drop in the sea of humanitarian aid, but we are extremely happy that we were able to help these two women, our colleagues. We all believe that the war in Ukraine will end soon, and life will return to its old ways.
But in case it won´t be back soon, Masha and Olga already have their new home with us. Come and visit them during your next trip to Central Europe. They will be happy to tell you their story.