A Reflection from Uppsala, Sweden

By Zoe Schuck

In most of Europe right now, a Ukrainian passport functions as a ticket on public transport: simply showing a Ukrainian passport to the driver or conductor will pay the fare. I know this because it has been posted on almost every timetable, transport app, and platform I have seen in the last two months. I found it a nice sentiment; one less thing to worry about for those who needed a break the most. But to be honest, I never considered it could be more than a sentiment, especially in eastern Sweden. Living in the “Scandinavian socialist utopia”, it seemed unlikely those fleeing from the violence would make it this far north without serious assistance – assistance that historically, the Swedish government has been somewhat sparse with. Nonetheless, the idea of providing transport for people that need it made me feel good. I appreciate the student discount on my monthly bus pass, so I could only imagine the difference that a waived fare would make for those whose lives had just been turned upside down. 

About a month ago when I got on the bus into the city center, a young boy, no more than 6, was crying to his mother and clearly frustrated about something. She consoled him, and I knew they weren’t speaking Swedish, but I couldn’t tell what exactly the language was. All I knew was that 

my heart broke for this little boy – maybe it was a bad day at school, maybe he had lost a favorite toy, but his mother did the best she could to wipe his tears and make him feel better. It was clear this wasn’t a fit over something not going his way – his sadness clearly came from a place of pain. Oftentimes bystanders assume crying children are dramatic, or bratty, or any other number of terms that exist to dismiss outward emotional expression. But this boy was none of those things. And the way his mother comforted him was proof; his pain was reflected in her consolation, and as many wonderful mothers do, she took it on for his sake. 

A few weeks after that, on the bus headed back home from the city center, a mother and young son boarded and flashed what looked to be a passport to the driver. She looked stressed, and a bit disheveled, but her son hopped onto the bus holding a daffodil with a big smile. He smiled at me. I smiled at him. They sat, she smiled at him, and it seemed that some relief washed over her face. We rode to our respective stops. The two of them stood by the door, and the little boy with the daffodil in one hand and his mother’s hand in the other jumped off the bus. And away they walked. 

Today, again sitting at the bus stop, a little boy in a Pokémon hat walked up to me and smiled. “Hej!” He said. “Hej!” I replied. Kids do that I suppose. He sat by me on the bench, and I gave up my place for his mother who was close behind. In her hand was an envelope with a heart drawn on it. As we boarded the bus, she opened the envelope and showed the driver a passport. In this moment, it all clicked. This mother and son I had been seeing; they are Ukrainian refugees. The nice sentiment of a passport for a fare, it was for them. And I couldn’t have felt more blind. 

She likely speaks no Swedish, and he is only learning. I don’t know what they’ve been through. I don’t know if he’s even been able to start school, and I don’t know why he was crying that day. I don’t know if the mother has found work or if she will ever be able to return to the place they call home. I don’t even know their names; after all, the knowledge I have was gifted only through coincidence, bus stops, and facial expressions. The extent of their story is something I simply do not, and likely will never, have the chance to know. 

But what I do know is this: That little boy, with his daffodil and Pokémon hat and great big smile gives me hope. Greeting strangers at bus stops and picking flowers on sunny days – despite all that he and his mother have likely been through, he still shines so brightly. 

I’m a Peace Studies major; I study, pray, and fight for peace. And for me, that little boy is a reminder why. But this story would have no beginning, middle, or ending if it weren’t for the small sentiment of a waived bus fare. Something so seemingly small made all the difference for this mother and son. Peace cannot exist without grace and sacrifice. And for this mother and son, and countless other refugees, the sacrifice of 13 Swedish Kroner (about $1.50) from Swedish taxpayers each time they ride the bus is how they can build stability here in Uppsala. So I suspect I would be hard-pressed to find a Swedish taxpayer who would take issue with a mother and son seeking refuge via public transport. (I also don’t think they would mind that the little boy picked a flower either, but that’s for another day). 

Most people never think about these small sacrifices, especially if they don’t stop to read the postings at the stops and stations. They are something I know this mother thinks about though, and something she will think about for many weeks to come. Her son’s joy and innocence will protect him for now, and I can only pray that peace will come and protect him forever. But for now, I hope that bus rides and Pokémon hats and flowers will be his shield – and keep his innocence safe as an inspiration for all of us. We could all use it right now. And maybe a daffodil, too.


Zoe Schuck is a senior peace, justice, and conflict studies major at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN. I am originally from McMinnville, OR, and I have a love of rain, yarn crafts, my three-legged cat Leeuwen and all things cozy. At Gustavus, I am a member of the Gustavus Choir and liturgist for our Sunday worship community. I served briefly on the board of the Lutheran Peace Fellowship and now serve as a campus organizer for the Minnesota DFL. I was also an exchange student at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden in the spring of 2022, where she wrote the piece included here.