CANNES,France (Reuters) – When Lesia Bilotserkovets and her family fled Kyiv by car at the start of the war in Ukraine, her father balked at the size of her suitcase, full of winter clothing.
The 24-year-old didn’t know she would end up in Cannes, on the French Riviera.
“I said ‘Papa, I don’t know where I’m going, and I don’t know for how long,'” said Bilotserkovets.
Three months later, she is settling into a new job at a hotel in Cannes, which this month rolled out the red carpet to celebrities for its annual film festival.
A French family she had helped in Ukraine as an interpreter offered her a place to stay.
The Ukraine war has loomed large over the festival – official Russian delegations were banned, the opening ceremony featured a speech from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the place of cultural boycotts has been a recurring theme.
For Bilotserkovets, the glamour of the festival is a world apart from what she left.
“It’s as if I’m in a parallel universe,” she said. She added that she refrains from posting about her life in France on social media out of respect for others in difficult situations.
Bilotserkovets is one of some 800 refugees that have arrived in Cannes since the outset of the war. The city hall set up a welcome center and some hotel and apartment owners gave up vacation rentals to accommodate them.
“There were strong gestures of solidarity,” said Thomas de Pariente, deputy mayor in charge of tourism.
Cannes faces shortages of workers in the hospitality sector, which struggles to recruit younger workers, offering the possibility for some to find jobs, he added.
Noemie Dewavrin, the owner of hotels Alnea and 7 Art, said Bilotserkovets is learning how to manage the reception, emails and social networks.
“In the beginning she seemed a bit stressed, a bit tearful,” said Dewavrin. Bilotserkovets is now more relaxed.
“I hope if this ends quickly, that I’ll return home and then think about where my heart is,” she said.
(Reporting by Mimosa Spencer, Fedja Grulovic, Michaela Cabrera, Noemie Olive. Editing by Alexandra Hudson)