The war, she says, changed that. “Many around the world began to admire the courage of the Ukrainians who stayed and fought. It kind of changed people’s perception of them from being outsiders to Europe to being ‘one of us’.
Ms Samoylenko said she always prided herself on being a Ukrainian ‘success story’, with her own gymnastics club and job as an instructor. She had invited Ukrainian gymnasts to teach in Italy even before the war, but now interest has grown, she said, and the outlook has generally changed.
“Now when you say Ukrainian, you don’t necessarily think ‘caregiver’, but a people who defend themselves with their own hands,” she said. “The picture has changed.”
Maryna Shutyuk, 25, born in Ukraine but living in Italy for more than 10 years, feels a stronger desire to display her national pride. Now she finds herself wearing her embroidered Ukrainian shirts at her family’s hotel, where she works as a receptionist. Before the war, she rarely did, usually, for the religious holidays she celebrated with other Ukrainians.
Shirts, she says, are “starting to become fashionable.”
Ms Shutyuk also joined the Ukrainian Association of Verona created by Ms Sorina, who said the increase in the Ukrainian population was contributing to a growing number of cultural centres, services and events aimed at this community.
The perceptions of those outside the Ukrainian community are also changing, she said.
“Before, when you said you were Ukrainian, they would say to you, ‘My grandmother’s helper is also Ukrainian,'” Ms Sorina said. “Now they look at you with respect.”