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the ‘Fairytale’ French Castles Housing Ukrainian Refugees


Tucked away within the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté area of France sits a Medieval-style fort. It’s the offseason for Guédelon, an experimental reproduction of a conventional Thirteenth-century fort, and the standard busloads of vacationers are nowhere to be seen.

Surrounding the gorgeous constructing is a forest full of the sound of birdsong. There is little to disturb the tranquil scene other than the occasional barking of a canine within the rustic distance.

For Kristi Viniar, a refugee from Kyiv, listening to nature’s “magical” sounds on the “fairytale” fort is a welcome reprieve from her day by day worries. 

“We watch the news, cry, watch the news, cry,” she advised Insider. “But the atmosphere at Guédelon relaxes our souls.”

It’s poles other than what her associates again dwelling in Ukraine hear.

“Children are staying in underground shelters, little children hearing the awful sounds of bombing,” she stated.

Kristi, left, Emma, center, and Max, right.

Kristi, left, Emma, heart, and Max, proper, pose for a household photograph.

Kristi Vinyar/Insider


Kristi and her husband, Max Viniar, ran a profitable maritime company in Kyiv.

They have been getting back from a trip in Dubai with their daughters Emma, three, and Neya, one, on the morning of February 24 when their airplane was all of a sudden diverted to Moldova. “We didn’t know what was happening,” Kristi stated.

Hours later, they discovered that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the invasion of Ukraine and that bombs have been falling on their beloved homeland.

Ukrainian rescuers work to clear the rubble after the collapse of buildings destroyed by the Russian military in Borodyanka metropolis close to Kyiv, Ukraine, 09 April 2022.
Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto through Getty Images

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An exterior shot of Guédelon Castle.
Émilie Guyot/ Guédelon

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With nothing however suitcases full of t-shirts, shorts, and swimming costumes, Kristi and Max realized they might not return dwelling anytime quickly. Their life as they knew it was over.

“‘Refugees’ used to be just a word for us, and now we are refugees,” Kristi stated. “When you watch Afghanistan and Syria on TV, it’s another world, but you never expect it to happen to you.”

The Viniars moved between three international locations in every week, counting on the generosity of strangers in Moldova, Romania, and France to deal with them.

During a brief stick with an previous pal in Paris, the household was related with the workers at Guédelon Castle, who provided them an opportunity to take shelter there.

It’s an actual fairytale, it is historic, it is a actually magical place.

“We didn’t know what Guédelon was. We just thought it was a house that was empty,” Kristi stated. “But when we arrived, we were in admiration.”

Kristi stated they have been awestruck once they realized they’d be residing on the grounds of a fort. “It’s a real fairytale. It’s historic. It’s a really magical place,” she stated. She joked that her daughter Emma felt as if she was a Disney princess.

But much more magical than their surrounding, Kristi defined, have been the individuals who confirmed her household kindness throughout their two-week keep.

The exterior of Guédelon Castle.
Sarah Preston/Guédelon Castle.

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Peter, a Ukrainian refugee, crosses the bridge into Guédelon Castle.
Joshua Zitser/Insider

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An aerial view of Guédelon Castle.
Sarah Preston/Guédelon

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Guédelon’s managing director Maryline Martin was a part of the household’s welcoming committee on the fort on March 6.

“When Max and Kristi arrived, they were completely lost,” she advised Insider. “They’d spent days going from airport to airport, and they were really in a state of shock.”

The workers on the fort, who have been gearing up for vacationer season, took outing of their days to bathe their visitors with toys for the kids, family necessities, and meals.

Their keep at Guédelon, which lasted a bit over two weeks, gave them a second of pause, Martin stated, but it surely was clear that it couldn’t be a long-term answer.

Maryline Martin holds Neya Viniar at Guédelon Castle.
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Neya Viniar within the farm of Château de Saint-Fargeau.
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“It might be a fairytale, but you’re stuck in the middle of a forest,” she stated. “Life here is not so fine. They need a car, job, school, friends. It’s not possible.”

So, utilizing her contacts with the native prefecture, she helped them safe a house in Auxerre — a small city about 30 miles away. They nonetheless go to, however their farewell as residents of Guédelon was tear-filled.

“It was a difficult, very emotional goodbye,” Martin stated. “You sensed a need to hold onto us.”

But whereas one household was leaving, a number of different Ukrainian refugees have been welcomed at close by Château de Saint-Fargeau — a 15-minute drive from Guédelon. 

A Ukrainian flag on display outside of the Château de Saint-Fargeau in France.

A Ukrainian flag on show exterior of the Château de Saint-Fargeau in France.

Joshua Zitser/Insider


The Renaissance chateau sits atop a hill in sleepy Saint-Fargeau. A Ukrainian flag is connected to the entrance of the constructing, above the portcullis, matching the pro-Ukraine stickers and graffiti scattered throughout the provincial city.

Château de Saint-Fargeau was in-built 1453. Since then, it has housed bishops, rich retailers, aristocracy, and French royalty. Now, it is a dwelling for the refugees of Putin’s warfare.

The rich Guyot household, who additionally owns Guédelon, bought it in 1977 and it has operated as a vacationer attraction ever since.

Refugees from Ukraine congregate in Château de Saint-Fargeau.
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Knight’s armor on show in Château de Saint-Fargeau.
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Émilie Guyot, the daughter of the proprietor Michel Guyot, advised Insider that it was a no brainer to welcome refugees to remain at Château de Saint-Fargeau.

“Unlike the other exoduses that we’ve seen, whether from Syria or elsewhere, we’ve never had the situation where people were actually at the gates asking for help,” she stated. “There was no way we were going to turn them away.”

The first folks to reach have been the Sidlauskas household. Andrius Sidlauskas, who lives within the UK, was accompanied by his mother-in-law, niece, and nephew, who had fled from Ukraine.

Shortly after, they have been joined by Yakiv Voloshchuk, his spouse Oksana, and their 15-year-old daughter Veronika.

Both households stayed on the chateau whereas ready for his or her household visas to the UK to come back by.

It actually does put your religion again into humanity.

They obtained a heat welcome to Saint-Fargeau. Their hosts had pulled out all the stops to settle them in.

“When we got there, the fridge was fully-stocked, and my jaw dropped,” Sidlauskas advised Insider. “There were pizzas, croissants, baguettes, bottles of wine at our disposal.”

The generosity, he stated, was nearly overwhelming. “It really does put your faith back into humanity,” he stated.

Voloshchuk advised Insider that he was additionally full of gratitude for the welcoming reception. “The French people were so good to us,” he advised Insider. “They put us up, gave us accommodation. Michel and Émilie Guyot are beautiful people.”

Refugees from Ukraine take pleasure in a picnic on the grounds of Château de Saint-Fargeau.
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A toddler from Ukraine rides a horse on the farmyard of Château de Saint-Fargeau.
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Families play with the livestock on the grounds of Château de Saint-Fargeau.
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Over the next days, the refugee households have been saved busy with actions; horse using, taking part in with livestock, and singalongs.

New friendships fashioned, and households merged because the Ukrainian youngsters turned inseparable from Guyot’s children.

The Voloshchuks and Sidlauskas moved out, ultimately receiving their visas to the UK, and different Ukrainian households instantly crammed their spots.

In complete, 30 folks have stayed on the two castles for the reason that outbreak of the warfare in Ukraine.

By all accounts, staying at Château de Saint-Fargeau is therapeutic and idyllic — a far cry from the state of affairs the Ukrainians had simply escaped.

Château de Saint-Fargeau

Château de Saint-Fargeau.

Emilie Guyot/ Château de Saint-Fargeau


But, the organizers of the scheme are eager to emphasize it is solely a brief answer.

“It’s good and important to welcome people in an emergency situation, but very quickly, you need an alternative solution behind housing, schools, employment, medical cover,” stated Sarah Preston, an English girl who works as a press officer at Saint-Fargeau.

“The easy thing is saying come in, but it’s making sure that everything is in place afterward,” she continued.

Preston has spent weeks working tirelessly to ensure the visitors are completely happy and arrange for his or her new future.

She has performed an important function find Ukrainians needing a brief dwelling, reaching out to them by social media, speaking to her connections, and studying articles on-line. Having discovered them a spot to remain, she’s gone by nice efforts to organize them for the subsequent stage of the journey.

Sarah Preston and a Ukrainian refugee staying at Château de Saint-Fargeau.
Joshua Zitser/Insider

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From left to proper: Neya Viniar, Maryline Martin, Vira Davlodska, Michel Guyot, Émilie Guyot, Kristi Viniar
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Preston has traveled with the refugees to Paris, two hours away, to interpret at visa appointments, helped households transfer into momentary lodging close by, and housed a household in her own residence. She’s the go-to for the refugee’s day by day issues, with a number of referring to her as their “angel.”

Preston is humble and reluctant to take credit score. When congratulated on her exhausting work, she rapidly praises others for his or her assist and teamwork.

For the Viniar household, there’s just one approach to present her thanks correctly.

“In Ukraine, there are a lot of castles, too,” Kristi stated. “We hope the situation will be okay so we can invite her to visit.”



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