Lens (Switzerland) (AFP) – Under the watchful eye of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, his granddaughter listens in dismay as Anastasia Sheludko describes the horrors she experienced before fleeing Ukraine.
The attack on Ukraine by her homeland Russia about six weeks ago was very scary, Marta Albertini told AFP, adding that she immediately realized that help was needed to the refugees.
“It was instinctive,” said the 84-year-old, who offers Sheludko and his mother a house in the small village of Lens, near the Swiss Alps ski resort of Crans-Montana.
Before they arrived, Albertini had removed most of the family photos that covered the wooden walls of the room, but a large painting of his grandfather hung in the living room.
The author of the famous novels “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” looks at the conflict in Ukraine with “horror”, he said.
Albertini, who last year published a book about three generations of Tolstoy’s wives — his grandmother, who gave the writer 13 children, his grandmother and his mother – pointed out that he was a famous pacifist.
Tolstoy, who witnessed the Crimean War and the siege of Sevastopol in 1850, must have been “overwhelmed” by what was happening, he said.
‘Against the horrors’
Albertini, who grew up in Italy and France before making Switzerland his permanent home a few years ago, said he was among the many Tolstoy descendants who signed a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin saying the family was against the war.
“We are against the terrible things that are happening now, the attack of an innocent country,” he said, noting that Putin might have looked at all the signatures “and thrown they are in the trash”.
But speaking up is important, he said.
“Europe, the world, will not be the same after this war.”
For Sheludko, the world he saw a few weeks ago is over.
“Sometimes I think I’m dreaming,” he told AFP. “It’s true.”
The 24-year-old arrived in the picturesque mountain region of Lens with his mother on March 13, more than a week after they fled their home in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv.
They are among the 23,000 Ukrainians who arrived in Switzerland, more than 4.2 million who left the war-torn country since the February 24 attack.
Albertini, who lives in a traditional house outside Lens, bought the apartment in the village a few years ago to visit family, with an eye to moving himself there when he doesn’t know the safety of the car.
Through word-of-mouth, a local man working to bring in some Ukrainian families was contacted, and everything was quickly arranged.
Everything has changed
Albertini was there when Sheludko and his mother arrived, along with another family who had moved away.
That first meeting was “very emotional”, he said.
Now, more than two weeks later, Sheludko, dressed in a gray coat and large sunglasses, looks like he’s been inside, and is attending classes. university in the nearby town of Sierre.
He studied to be a translator in Mykolaiv, but here, he returned to an academic path he had left a few years ago.
“So I’m an IT specialist again,” he says with a laugh.
But his smile faded as he recalled the moment his “peaceful and normal life” changed.
“One morning, you wake up because your plane blew up at 5:00 am… and your life will never be the same again.”
He and his family feared the cold for 10 days before they knew it was time to head west, leaving behind his older brother and grandparents.
Arriving in Switzerland was a huge relief, he said, adding that he was grateful for “very good, very warm”.
Only later did he find out who his Russian-speaking host was.
Recalling that he taught Tolstoy at school, Sheludko said that being welcomed by his descendant was a “great honor”.
Albertini dismisses him, saying that it is not a question of honor.
“I got this office, so I could help. That’s all.”
© 2022 AFP