On a frosty Sunday morning in the shadow of the onion-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn’s Old Town, Irina Dominikovskaja smiles and waves to churchgoers and tourists, inviting them to try the warm drinks and roasted almonds she sells from a weathered food stand called Maias Munk.
Dominikovskaja is a refugee from Central Ukraine who fled to Estonia a year ago when the war began.
“Quite a number of people speak Russian here, about 40%,” she said in Russian with the help of a translator. “It was easier to adapt here.”
Dominikovskaja is renting an apartment and helping her 33-year-old son with disabilities who needs social services support.
She is one of more than 70,000 Ukrainian refugees in Estonia, the largest number per capita of any country in Europe.
Dominikovskaja is from near Kryvyi Rih, the home town of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It was one of the first cities Russia invaded in 2022. Months after the invasion, Russian missiles targeted a reservoir dam near Kryvyi Rih, flooding a significant portion of the city. Now she can’t go back.
“My home city was damaged,” Dominikovskaja said. “People would be moved from particular parts so the city would not be flooded.”
Maias Munk is a family-owned chain of food stands dotting the cobblestoned streets of Tallinn’s medieval neighborhood. It serves treats made for cold days such as hot mulled ‘glogg,’ which is Swedish for ‘wine.’
“Monasteries in the old days would sell spices and they sort of tried to trace that history,” Dominikovskaja said.
A couple of Maias Munk stands have closed but Dominikovskaja keeps working. She says it’s a hard way to make a living—the shops come and go—but she said she’s “holding on, holding the line.”
Dominikovskaja said the director of the Maias Munk shops has been very generous to her, and that Estonia has been good to Ukrainian refugees.