Settled in Nîmes for several years, the young native of Odessa and her French husband are at the center of a chain of solidarity thanks to which 13 refugees are now sheltered in the Gard.
The day before Putin’s speech announcing the start of his disastrous “special military operation” in Ukraine, it was she who reassured hotel guests. “I told them no, there would be no Russian invasionrecalls Viktoriia Kostyshyna-Tosolini, executive assistant at the Secret Gardens. It seemed so impossible, we were friendly peoples.”
The awakening is brutal. “Hello girls, the war is with us” : the next morning, turning on her phone, the native of Odessa, 32, discovers this message on a discussion group between friends; the brother of one of them is already under the bombs, in Kharkiv.
“I begged my mother to leave”
“For 15 minutes, I was completely blocked”, says “Vika”, who has been living in Nîmes for several years. Ana, a compatriot who also lives here, joins her a little later. The first tears, together. And the first images that arrive. “We were in shock. she continues. We spent the rest of the day watching the news, without being able to stop or even talk to each other…”
But just as they did not believe in war, families and friends back home believe that only major military sites will be targeted, that the onslaught will quickly end. Error. “With all the testimonies that came up, the situation in Kharkiv then Mariupol, the bombardments on civilian neighborhoods, hospitals, orphanages, I begged my mother to leave…”
We must also convince his grandmother, 82 years old and a long covid, to leave Odessa as soon as possible (his father, 58 years old, and his half-brother, 20 years old, cannot leave). Leave, before the bridge on the road that leads in less than two hours to Moldova is perhaps targeted.
“Grandma couldn’t move”
Friday, March 4, 6 a.m. A friend’s father picks up the two women and drives them to the border, or rather to the start of the traffic jam that has formed there. With only a suitcase and a cat, in the cold, they walk. Eight kilometers. Like so many other refugees; many are those who abandon their luggage, which has become too heavy.
When they finally reach Moldova, “Grandma couldn’t move”, knows Vika. Volunteers take care of them, hot drinks, shelter, comfort. “What the people of this small country, who don’t necessarily have a lot of means, have done for us is invaluable”will tell Lyudmila, the grandmother.
For their part, Viktoriia and her husband Allan prepared to leave Nîmes to pick up the two exiles. And several other friends, too. “But there was no question of going there empty-handed”, says Vika, a little woman with touching determination. The Alzon Institute lends a mini-bus filled to the brim with clothes, hygiene and health products. The good friends Vincent and Paul (who takes his car, in order to offer even more space) are also on the trip, to take turns at the wheel.
With the support of the Institut d’Alzon
As of March 2, the Alzon Institute (where Iryna Korneeva, a music teacher of Ukrainian origin teaches) launched a collection of basic necessities for an orphanage run by the Congregation of the Oblates of the Assumption in Bacau, In Romania.
The establishment was in the process of organizing a first departure when it became aware of the emergency initiative of Vika and Allan. “We didn’t hesitate for a second, we lent this minibus full of donations,” says Marie Lachaud, communications director of d’Alzon.
On their outward and return journeys, the convoy was able to spend a night in Bacau, where the donations were deposited. The institute has also successfully mobilized its network (teachers, parents of students, etc.) to find housing solutions; the Lions club is also involved in these needs.
The collection, which “has borne fruit beyond our expectations”, continues. A former student, at the head of a transport company, will make a truck available to transport several tons of donations to Romania. Loading scheduled for Friday morning for a Sunday or Monday departure.
A complicated return
From Moldova, the four Gardois bring back 10 people: Lola and Lyudmila, therefore, but also five other women, and three children. “They left husbands, relatives, it’s a horror, slips Vika. But it was a relief for them to find us, because they knew where they were going. Most people have to flee from the void…”
The return to France is complicated, the group separates when Lola, Vika’s mother, exhausted and exhausted, has to be hospitalized in Hungary. Today, everyone is here, safe. Since then, Vika and Allan have also made it possible to welcome another couple of Ukrainian friends who had been stranded in Egypt since the start of the war.
Thirteen people in total, sheltered thanks to the young couple from Nîmes and the solidarity movement that has been set up around them.
How to help?
Steps are in progress for the schooling of the children. The administrative procedures begin: the refugees must first be given a temporary residence permit (APS) for 6 months, which opens the right to a work permit, and to the request for allowances.
How to help the people brought back by Allan and Viktoriia Tosolini? “With work, she replies. Now that the children are going to school, the girls want to work! Helping the elderly, for example.”
If on the housing side, for the moment, solutions have been found, there will be needs for basic necessities. The online kitty created by the couple for the journey to the Ukrainian border remains active for this purpose (search for “Allan and Vika” on Leetchi to donate).