This family from the North welcomed Ukrainians and… their 12 cats!

Frédéric, Olena, Olga, Lucile and Céline with the cats of Lord Inouk’s Cattery. (©AS Hourdeaux/Northern Cross)

Céline and Frédéric live in Odomez, near Saint-Amand-les-Eaux and Valenciennesin the North ! For two months, they welcomed Olga and her Ukrainian family as well as their 12 cats! Arriving in France in April 2022, Olga’s family was able to count on the welcome of this cat-breeding couple, before finding a house to rent in Ferrière-la-Grande in June 2022. How did this solidarity go? ? We found them together, because friendships continue.

Their love of cats brings them together

Céline Blaise and Frédéric Brihaye love animals. They have 4 dogs and about twenty cats. In particular, they saved several mistreated Spanish dogs, the Podenco. In addition to their professional activities, they are breeders of Scottish and Highland Fold and Straight (folded and straight ears).

Nothing implied that they were going to host a Ukrainian family they barely knew for several months. It was their love of cats that brought them into contact with Olga, herself a breeder of the same breed of cats.

Here are Scottish and Highland Fold and Straight near St Amand les Eaux.
Here are Scottish and Highland Fold and Straight near St Amand les Eaux. (©AS Hourdeaux/Northern Cross)

contact by facebook

Céline Blaise explains: “I was in Facebook contact with Olga, Scottish’s Ukrainian breedings are renowned. In our sector, we were aware of solidarity with Ukraine, there were departures of trucks with foodstuffs there, in particular thanks to the Maxime butcher’s shop in Bruille-St-Amand ”.

Via facebook, Céline learns that Olga and 4 members of her family, with their cats, have taken the road to Romania. “They hoped to settle in Italy, but it fell through” (see box).

Kittens love to have fun!
Kittens love to have fun! (©AS Hourdeaux/Northern Cross)

When the owner of the accommodation in Romania told them to leave, Céline and her companion Frédéric did not hesitate: “We told them to come to France, and that we would accommodate them! In 48 hours, we had to find beds, rearrange the house to accommodate 5 more people: Olga, her mother, her sister-in-law and her son… plus 12 cats!

Olga, Ukrainian: “I didn’t expect so much help!”

Olga drove 3,000 kilometers with her family to escape the bombardments in Ukraine. Out of the question to leave without his 12 cats, then, the car was well loaded! Leaving kyiv at the beginning of March 2022, she stayed in Romania for several weeks. Olga told us about her situation in English. “I had an offer in Italy for accommodation, but in the end it was cancelled. I didn’t want to go to France initially, it was much too far, I had a small car…”
But in the end, it is in France that Olga and her family find a solution.
“Without Céline and Fred, I had nowhere to go. Few people would have done what they did! Especially since we only knew each other through facebook… I didn’t expect so much help”
Arrived in Odomez at the beginning of April 2022, the 5 Ukrainians stayed two months in Céline and Fred’s house, before finding independent accommodation. “I sent 100 requests for a house, I had a lot of refusals”. Finally, at the beginning of June 2022, it is near Maubeuge that she settles with all her family.
In Ukraine, Olga worked for an American mobile app and website company, she considers herself lucky, she has always been able to continue working and is pursuing this job from France.
The future ? “I don’t think my life is today and tomorrow, no more”. Since then, the family has been able to welcome a new member, Olena’s 6-year-old granddaughter, into their new home.

“You should know that in Ukraine, many animal breeders gave their animals to the border to save them, or died with their animals under the bombardments because they did not want to leave their breeding”, indicates Céline .

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She and her companion opened their house wide for strangers, without conditions.

Lord Inouk's cattery in Odomez welcomed a Ukrainian family and their cats for 2 months.
Lord Inouk’s cattery in Odomez welcomed a Ukrainian family and their cats for 2 months. (©AS Hourdeaux/Northern Cross)

An incredible welcome

How was this incredible welcome? Relations between the two families were immediately warm. “We had a lot of small Ukrainian dishes. We also went on outings together, walks in the countryside, local concerts…” explains Frédéric.

We also had to do a lot of administrative procedures for Olga’s family, who didn’t speak French at all. “We drove everywhere, the prefecture, the doctors… We looked for a translator. It’s an obstacle course when you don’t speak French to assert your rights, even to open a bank account,” notes Frédéric. He adds: “Our Ukrainian friends have shown a lot of resilience…”

The northern couple also finds that behind the fine speeches of aid to Ukrainians in France, actions are lacking. They didn’t get as much support as they might have thought. They would like to thank those who were up to it: the Maxime butcher’s shop, the Red Cross, the Restos du Coeur in Fresnes-sur-Escaut.

A house, after 100 files!

The search for a house was also on the program, and it was complicated: more than 100 requests without response or refused. Céline and Fred even say they are shocked by certain reactions. “When people knew it was for Ukrainians, they said no right away, they didn’t want to help foreigners… It’s sad,” says Céline. But there were other outbursts of solidarity that warmed the hearts, especially for food, of humans and cats.

Finally, a house was found near Maubeuge, the couple from Valenciennes stood surety. We had to find furniture, make the move. “We would never have had a house without Céline, she’s wonderful,” says Olga, in perfect English.

” That’s life “

Céline and Frédéric know one thing: that this solidarity does not stop. “It’s for life, we can’t leave them. We stay in touch, we see each other as often as possible being an hour away by car”.

In June 2023, a photo exhibition of Olga and Céline’s cats is already planned in Roubaix, during the 2nd animal fair! The idea came from Lucile Devlaeminck, who knows Céline and Fred and their animals well, because she intervenes there for animal communication. “This solidarity is rare, it’s a feat,” she points out.

We would like to know what the Ukrainian cats think of this journey!

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This family from the North welcomed Ukrainians and… their 12 cats!