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"After the basements, everything seems like heaven. The child asks if we are going to be bombed here.”


The small town of Cottbus is in the east of Germany, two hundred kilometers from Wrocław, Poland. Nona Nersesian, a journalist and volunteer, lives and works in Cottbus, and she has prepared an article for us about how refugees from Ukraine, who arrive in Cottbus in large numbers, are greeted in the city.

Holger Kölch, the Mayor of Cottbus announced on Friday, March 18, that Cottbus, along with Berlin and Hanover, is becoming a distribution center for refugees from Ukraine. That means that Cottbus will be receiving six trains a day from Wednesday, March 23. From here, people will be distributed to other German cities or to neighboring European countries. In other words, about 3,600 people will arrive in Cottbus every day.

So, usually trains that run on the route Berlin-Kotbus-Wrocław are called "cultural" - concerts, exhibitions and art meetings are held right in the carriages. Now the route is the same, but the program is different - the trains bring Ukrainian refugees.

Volunteers have already met more than a thousand people, but only a few want to stay in Cottbus. The first question after the stop: how to get to Berlin, Munich, Hamburg?

Galina from Kharkiv says that on her first day in Germany, she thinks about her children's future:

"We hope for the best, we left our husbands there, we want to go back, but we don't know how long the war will last. And my son is a professional dancer, so I also think about his future here”.

It's clear that big cities mean big opportunities, but the volunteers explain that in Berlin, for example, it's much harder to find housing now than in Cottbus.

So the family from Vinnitsa decided to stay here - as they explain, they do not care at all where to live:

"After basements and bomb shelters, everything seems like heaven. You know, when we were approaching Cottbus, the kid kept asking if we were going to be bombed here. The children were frightened, their ears still filled with the howling of sirens and the sounds of explosions.”

Most of the refugees are elderly people and women with children. Volunteers try to make them feel safe and not suffer because of the language barrier.

A pregnant woman worries whether she will be able to give birth in Germany and wonders how to get registered for a doctor appointment. Social workers explain all the nuances on the spot, and volunteer Lena does not leave her side for a minute. Lena herself arrived in Cottbus ten days ago from Kyiv, and now she is greeting fellow-countrymen.

There are more than a hundred people in one of the local volunteer chat rooms alone, and more are coming every day. Some of them do not speak Ukrainian or Russian, but there are translators for them.

Volunteer Oksana will go in a minute in an ambulance to the city clinic to accompany one of the refugee women. Oksana Ladneva herself has family in both Ukraine and Russia. She has never been a volunteer, but now she can't stay away:

"I am a Russian citizen, I love my hometown Kaliningrad very much. And I will never be ashamed of this, despite the fact that a wave of hatred against Russians has erupted in Europe. You just have to continue to be a human being. And for all these days that I help Ukrainian refugees, I haven't heard a single bad word about me, and yet in one way or another they find out where I'm from in conversations. And among the other volunteers there are also quite a few people from Russia.

You see, this is how we were taught, this is how we were brought up, that you have to have a kind heart - that's the most important thing.

I remember well the first family I met - people from Azerbaijan, but citizens of Ukraine - and the words of gratitude, their eyes... I understand that everything is for a reason!”

Oksana Ladneva, volunteer

Nine trains with refugees from the war zones in Ukraine have already arrived in Cottbus. And about 200 people have been temporarily accommodated in a specially prepared exhibition hall. In addition, many refugees have stayed with their acquaintances or simply with volunteers. And the city administration is now working on permanent housing and benefits for these people.

It is noteworthy that some refugees came to Cottbus with their pets - they brought cats, dogs and even rodents. Germans have nothing against it - they help animals, too.

Refugees are thankful: warm food, drinks, clothes, free train tickets - this is only a small part of all the help they receive here. And at the train stations in Germany you can meet people with signs who want to host refugees. They are willing to provide shelter to those who have lost their homes free of charge.

By Nona Nersesian
Photos: Nona Nersesian