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Capturing a crisis – Ukrainian refugees in Denmark

A sign in Ukraine colors and language, leading refugees to free busses to Denmark (C) Danish Immigration Museum
Sign in Ukraine colors and language, leading refugees to free busses to Denmark
(C) Danish Immigration Museum

On the 24th of February this year, the global political landscape was changed in an instant. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was an end to a longstanding chapter of relative peace in Europe, not only reintroducing war-induced displacement within Europe, but causing the largest number of refugees Europe has seen since World War II. As of present, more than 5,2 million people have been forced to leave Ukraine while 7,7 million people are internally displaced. Being second-row neighbor to Ukraine, it is estimated that up to 40.000 Ukrainians have come to Denmark, while the Danish government is making preparations for the arrival of up to 100.000 displaced Ukrainians.

Following EU legislation, the Danish parliament has passed a special act, allowing Ukrainian citizens to live and work in Denmark for up to two years without having to apply for asylum.

This unprecedented political willingness to accept refugees has been paralleled by numerous volunteer aid acts by Danish civic society – from private individuals opening their home to Ukrainian refugees or transporting them from the Ukrainian borders to Denmark, to spontaneously organized initiatives of collecting and redistributing clothes, food, medicine and other basic commodities.

Flight at first-hand

As a historical moment both on a national and global scale, the Danish Immigration Museum is committed to documenting these events.

Visiting asylum centers, private homes, church services and anti-war demonstrations, we have been gathering early testimonies of Ukrainian refugees, Danish host families, volunteer drivers and project instigators.

Through in-depth interviews, we collect accounts of peoples’ lives in Ukraine before the war, their route to Denmark and their encounter with Danish society and the new special act.

In addition, we ask volunteers about the motivations for – and experiences of helping Ukrainian refugees. By gathering early accounts from different perspectives and juxtaposing them with interviews we will be doing with the same people in the future, the museum aims to trace developments in the situation of- and attitudes towards Ukrainian refugees in Denmark.

Objects, sounds, images

In addition to interviews, the museum gathers objects, photos and soundscapes to document the influx of Ukrainian refugees to Denmark.

The perpetual challenge of gathering objects related to forced migration is met by co-creative methods such as map drawing and photo sharing exercises, where Ukrainians are encouraged to draw their route to Denmark and to share photos of their journey to Denmark, of their time in Denmark as well as screenshots of communication with friends and family who are still in Ukraine. Moreover, the extensive volunteer effort in Denmark offers new arenas for collecting objects related to flight – from signs and flags that have been used by volunteer drivers to show that they are offering a ride to Denmark, to post-it stickers with Danish and Ukrainian words for everyday objects that have been decorating host family homes to help Ukrainian guests learn basic Danish.

Both as a way of creating historical evidence and as a means of designing sensory experiences that invites museum visitors to partake in migration histories and events, the museum is recording soundscapes from significant happenings and experiences related to the situation of Ukrainian refugees in Denmark. Through auditory landscapes of an anti-war demonstration, a memorial service, a Ukrainian Easter celebration or a lunch in an asylum camp cantina, we hope to engage visitors with this chapter of Danish migration history in a sensorial and exploratory way that leaves room for individual interpretation and imagination.

The project is ongoing, and we gradually develop our methods, perspectives and goals as the situation in Ukraine and Denmark progresses.

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