Sister of Mayo Clinic physician opens her Ukraine home, guest house to displaced refugees
Ukrainian vacation cottage becomes refuge amidst Russian invasion.
YAREMCHE, UKRAINE — When Lidia Wolanskyj purchased a home and plot of land west of Kolomyia, Ukraine, she said she hoped it would offer a sanctuary from urban living and a bit of retirement income.
That retirement home has now become a literal sanctuary for Ukrainians seeking shelter from an ongoing invasion of the country by Russian forces.
Wolanskyj, whose sister Alexandra Wolanskyj is a Mayo Clinic physician, was looking for a place to escape city life and continue freelance writing as she transitioned to retirement. In October 2021, she sold her apartment in Kyiv and moved to the mountains full time.
She came across a house with stable and a summer kitchen outside the town of Yaremche.
“I found the house of my dreams,” she said. “It’s surrounded by the mountains and there’s a creek on the property.”
In 2011, Wolanskyj converted a former stable and summer kitchen on the property into a guest house.
For $40 a night, up to four guests can enjoy the cozy mountain cottage. It’s become a popular destination spot. The last two summers have been fully booked, Wolanskyj said.
This year was looking promising too, she added. Then Russia invaded eastern Ukraine. People in the path of the oncoming Russian military forces fled to the west either to other parts of Ukraine or out of the country entirely.
Wolanskyj opened her home and guest house to people displaced by the attack. Wolanskyj has lost track of exactly how many people have passed through her home and guest house. At one point, nine adults plus a few children were staying in the two-bedroom cottage, she said. At one point, during a blackout due to fears of Russian air campaigns at the time, the 10 adults were huddled over a candlelight for dinner.
“It was like we were living in another time,” Wolanskyj said.
Currently, a family from Kharkiv consisting of a mother, father, a 10-year-old girl and their cat, is staying in the cottage.
Kharkiv has been hit hard, she said.
“The building next to theirs got blown up,” Wolanskyj said. “They weren’t waiting for their building to be blown up.”
The family is paying some rent to offset utility costs. Wolanskyj said it isn’t near the income she would have gotten from tourists, but it helps. Her income from writing and translating has dried up too, she said.
Wolanskyj said she has heard that some Ukrainian homeowners have gotten a bit of support and help by people booking their Airbnbs, paying and then canceling without asking for a refund. She said she doesn’t need that kind of support.
“I don’t want to make money from the war,” she said.
She asks that people who do want to support Ukrainians support Plast, a Ukrainian scouting organization, or aid organization Razom, which means “togetherness” in Ukrainian.
“None of us are in dire straits here,” Wolanskyj said.
Wolanskyj also has some income from the garden and fruit trees on her half-acre property. Despite the ongoing invasion, she said she has no plans to leave Ukraine. She spent 10 days of April in Rochester visiting her sister. It took her nearly three days to get back home because commercial flights do not go directly to Ukraine right now.
She never entertained the thought of not returning, she said.
“This is my home,” she said. “I fell in love with these mountains.”
Once the Russian invasion is over, she’d be happy to show you why.