Rome organizes free tours for refugees from Ukraine war

Initiatives are multiplying for refugees from the war in Ukraine who have arrived in Italy. And free guided tours of the city and museums are being organized in Rome. We talk about this with a Ukrainian tour guide, Iryna Kravchenko.

Culture as a tool of solidarity and welcome for Ukrainian women and children fleeing the war in Ukraine. This is what is happening in Rome where many tour guides are organizing free guided tours for the refugees, mainly Ukrainian nationality guides who have been working in Italy for years, but also Italian tour guides who are lending themselves to this service. We were told about this by Iryna Kravchenko, who was a journalist in Odessa a and since 2012 has been in Italy where she graduated in art history and then decided to stay in Rome to live and work as a professional tour guide, registered with AGTA - Associazione Guide Turistiche Abilitate.

“In Rome,” Kravchenko explains, “I personally know about 20 guides who organize these tours. But the number is definitely much higher. We have taken hundreds of refugees on tours, and most of them are moms between 30 and 50 years old with children, a little more rarely older people happen. We also try to arrange among female colleagues to equip them with radios with which to hear the explanation. They love Rome very much, but they can’t wait to go home! They want to leave right away as soon as the war is over. Maybe there will be some problems for the people who lost their homes to the bombings, but everyone else will return to Ukraine as soon as possible.”

The most popular tour for refugees is a city tour, and they are also taken to St. Peter’s, the Vatican Museums, the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum. “The tour,” Kravchenko continues, “also depends on the activities of the associations that buy tickets for refugees, or for people with disabilities, and it depends on what museums are available. They are very curious, and if they could, they would go every day to discover something new. And they are very grateful to the Italians for welcoming them: there are so many volunteers who give them a hand, much more than I do, including several doctors who organize free medical checkups.” There is a lot of solidarity from the Ukrainian community, from helping the Red Cross welcome refugees to acting as translators at the Bambin Gesù hospital in Rome for hospitalized children.

Turisti a Roma in piazza Navona
Tourists in Rome’s Piazza Navona

Iryna Kravchenko came to Italy ten years ago and after graduating with a degree in art history took the tour guide exam. After qualifying she began working with Ukrainian and Russian-speaking groups. “I don’t spend much on myself, I live alone, and everything I had left over I sent to my family in Ukraine, in Odessa. My parents, sister, and grandmother, with our ten cats and two dogs, still live there,” the guide reveals, “because they don’t want to leave it despite the fact that the Russians have been bombing it heavily in the last period.” And he explains that three of the missiles fired at Odessa last May three flew right over his house. “My parents wake up almost every night from the alarm or some explosion. But thank God the Russian troops are still far away, so my parents prefer to stay in Odessa as long as possible.”

How did the idea of guided tours for people fleeing the war come about? “After February 24 we all felt part of a family of 40 million people, dearest relatives,” Kravchenko stresses. “Our people are all united and at least this way I can help and support my people. And unfortunately at the same time we lost 95 percent of all Russian friends and relatives.” Indeed, in Ukraine, a border land, there are many families with Russian relatives. “They don’t call us, they don’t ask how we are. If they write, they immediately start complaining that the whole world has started to hate them. But most are silent as if nothing has happened, they post very positive photos and videos where they are cheerful, enjoying life while the Russian military tortures, rapes and kills Ukrainian civilians.” And Russians in Italy, we ask, how do they see their country from here reading the Western press? “So many Russians living in Rome believe that Putin is behaving justly. Honestly, this reaction has been one of the ugliest surprises in the last couple of months.”

On the tourism front there is a record that theUnited Nations World Tourism Organization voted to suspend Russia’s membership for its invasion of Ukraine with immediate effect just a few days ago in a symbolic move, given that Moscow itself had notified Unwto of its decision to leave 48 days before the vote. More than two-thirds of the 160 member states supported the resolution suspending Russia’s membership. The vote had been scheduled long before Russia announced its decision to leave the organization, beginning a process that Unwto says will take a year to complete. Spanish Tourism Minister María Reyes Maroto Illera, who chaired the Madrid-based body’s special session, said Russia’s invasion “hurts the founding principles of the United Nations and the values represented by tourism, such as peace, prosperity and universal respect,” and called for a cessation of hostilities.