Once, Lena Machula dreamt of living in Sweden or Holland. When the war in Ukraine broke out she fled to Denmark, ending up in Vejle. Here, she hopes to live for the rest of her life.

The first time Lena cycled to the beach and experienced the sunrise explode in light over Vejle fjord, she stood completely still. She struggles to find words for the emotions that flowed through her, and she laughs at the words that best describes her experience.

"I felt like I was in heaven. It really does me good," says Lena, who cycles to the beach every morning to experience the sunrise. When she returns to her apartment in the centre of Vejle, she cuddles her dog, a Pug called Bacon, and gets ready for work. She enjoys her life and the city she hadn’t even heard of two years ago.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, 2022. Lena lived in a ninth-floor apartment in Kiev. She had a job in the IT industry and dreamed one day of moving to the coast near the city of Odessa.

On that fateful day, she was on her way to Stockholm to visit a friend. As she stood in line at the airport check-in, Lena realised she had to turn back.

“When I came out of the airport, I took a taxi where the driver was very stressed and driving unsafely. As he drove me to my sister's house, I realised that the war was real. There were explosions in the sky and the high-rise buildings were shaking. It was very scary,” Lena says, momentarily falling silent.

Lena Machula had never heard of Vejle before the war in Ukraine. She has fallen madly in love with the city and often goes down to the harbour or beach to relax and let her eyes wander to the horizon.

Vejle was my only option

Together with her sister, Lena travelled to western Ukraine. She stayed there for 14 days in a house crowded with people who had also fled Kiev. The situation was untenable, and Lena knew she couldn't stay there for long. One day she got in touch with an old acquaintance who had travelled to Denmark several years earlier – more specifically Vejle. For Lena, the city was an insignificant dot on the map; a place she had never heard of.

"I didn't think for long about what I should do. I just needed to go somewhere where I could be safe. Vejle was my only option,” says Lena, who moved into a room in her friend's apartment. After six months, she found her own place to live and, for the first time in a long time, Lena could finally relax. She also started her first job and got help from the local community settling into her new life.

“I had furniture, crockery and even a vacuum cleaner delivered to my apartment. It was absolutely amazing. I told my parents, ‘Look how people help other people.’”

Lena had heard that the Danes are closed and difficult to communicate with. But that's not how she’s experienced her new community. She has met open and talkative people at various events for Ukrainians at the café where she spent many afternoons during her first year in Vejle.

Bicycles are a popular mode of transport in Vejle, so Lena bought a two-wheeler as soon as she arrived.

Found a boyfriend and learning to drive

“I’ve met people who have done everything to make me feel welcome. Some of them have become friends. And even though I don't speak Danish yet, everyone is really willing to communicate in English.

In the fall of 2022, Lena met her Danish boyfriend, Kim. She has also started a new, permanent job in the energy industry and is learning to drive. Lena also dreams of buying a house and building her future life in Vejle.

“Once, I dreamed of living in Switzerland or Holland. I didn't know anything about Denmark. Now I want to give back – by working, paying taxes and learning the language. It's the best place I could dream of.”

Bacon the Pug enjoys life in his new town with his owner.

Translated by Tony Langford (Influentsy ApS)

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