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"Parting with loved ones was unbearable". The journey of a Ukrainian teacher from Dnipro to Nuremberg


Lubov Burlakova from Dnipro. In March 2022, Russian troops bombed the city and the woman made the difficult decision to leave. Trying to save her 12-year-old daughter from the war and all its terrible consequences.

Now Lyubov lives in Germany. She is learning German and plans to find a job and somehow get on with her life, which has drastically changed since February 24th.

Lyubov Burlakova tells:

We didn't understand what was happening

In 2014, at the end of March, just a week before the war, my eldest daughter Valeria and I went to a cheerleading competition in Luhansk. Even then, there were Russian flags in the city and election campaign tents. There were unmarked machine gunners at the entrance. It was not clear who they were, but the feeling remained unpleasant.

After the occupation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, there were many displaced people in Dnipro. It was scary, the line of demarcation was not that far away from us. Moreover, ambulances with wounded were constantly "fleeing", military vehicles were going that way. We did not understand what was going on at all.

Difficult decision

At the beginning of 2022 there was a lot of talk about war, but I did not believe there would be one. Quite frankly, even on February 16th I said it was impossible.

I allowed another escalation in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, but I could not imagine that Russian troops would attack Ukraine from all sides. And when the invasion started and rockets and planes flew in, I was very afraid that they would start bombing residential areas.

I doubted whether I should go anywhere. I had two jobs in Dnipro: as a journalist for an online publication and as a teacher at the local art college.

But I decided I had to save my child. Lada was 12 years old and she was scared, especially when air defence was working and explosions were heard. I also dreamt about dead people all the time, and when you dream about that, nothing good happens. My daughter's life was more important than my job, so I made a decision: I resigned and left.

At that time Russian troops were rapidly advancing towards the Dnieper from three sides: from Kharkiv, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhya. It was an hour's drive from us to the Zaporizhzhya region. And considering the speed with which they were advancing... I was scared. And I knew exactly, that I would not want to live in occupation.

In the summer a rocket flew into our street, three hundred metres from our house. My husband says that the whole yard was covered with a mixture of glass and broken asphalt.

Neighbours sent photos of broken window frames. I had even seen pictures of the crater near our house in the German news.

Like in '41

To say goodbye to our loved ones was unbearable; it was the worst moment for me. We cried so much... I thought we would never see each other again. It was very hard.

My husband and eldest daughter Valeria stayed in Dnipro. She has a boyfriend there who would not be allowed out of Ukraine. During the year I was away, they got married.

My youngest daughter Lada and I left on March 11th, on an evacuation train.

The city was bombed, people were dying, and after that a large number of people rushed to the railway station.

Two queues formed there: the first was for people with small children, the second for everyone else. We were in the second queue, waiting for over six hours, it was 12 degrees below zero. We were warming ourselves in the Ministry of Emergency Situations tents, it felt like 1941.

We tried to get on a train, which was going straight to Poland, but we could not get on. In the end we went to Lvov. There were no trains in other directions, only evacuation trains. It was very cramped, the three of us sleeping on two shelves. The wounded were carried in separate carriages with washed-out windows.

In Lviv, we immediately bought tickets for 1000 hryvnias and went to Poland, to Peremyshl. At the station, there were a lot of free Polish buses, but they only took us to the border, so we had to walk across the border and find another means of transport. We were tired, so I took a direct route.

Uninvited guests

I know Polish, so I planned to work and stay in Poland. But I was shocked by the number of refugees in Przemysl: There was a constant stream of people crossing the border, and the railway station was tight.

My cousin was going to Germany, she found German volunteers, and invited us to join her. That's how lightning quick I made the decision to go on. The volunteers had three beds in the car, we went to sleep and immediately fell asleep - we were exhausted.

In Wroclaw, I got sick and fainted. It was probably due to fatigue or stress. Waking up, I saw doctors. They gave me some pills, I regained consciousness and we moved on.

We were brought to Berlin, and from there we had to go to Nuremberg, where Irina, a relative of my cousin, was waiting. She was not ready to shelter two uninvited guests: at the time of our arrival she had already received two families from Dnipro, but despite this, she found a place for us too.


Later Irina rented us all, four women and four children from Ukraine, an office space in an industrial zone - we were looking for a flat, but everything was occupied, we had no choice. There were decent clean rooms, we had beds brought in, and a neighbour bought stationery for drawing. The office had no doors, the rooms were all open, but there was a kitchen, showers and toilets. The tenants provided the place with no rent, Irina only paid for the utilities.

Irina (second from left) and the two families from Dnipro with whom Lyubov lived in the office

I lived there for a month and a half. We learned that Ansbach would be settling people in a dormitory; they already had experience accepting refugees from Donbas in 2014, and now they were ready to accept up to 500 people. The two families who lived with us were offered rooms in the dormitory, but they refused and decided to look for a flat right away, and my daughter and I were placed in one of those rooms.

My cousin also moved in in July, the three of us still live in that small room. Our hostel is a two-storey building in a riding centre. There are five rooms, a kitchen and two bathrooms on each floor. The rooms have new refrigerators, metal beds, lockers, tables, and a laundry room in the basement.

A room in a hostel

Not without a language

When we first arrived, Irina arranged a job for us in a restaurant. Kuma speaks English, so she was offered to work in the bar, and I washed dishes. The owners praised us a lot on the first day, but after a week they asked us to leave, paying 200 euros each. Later that money was deducted from our social benefits.

We worked in a warehouse for one day, but we did not want to go back, so we left. After weighing the pros and cons, we decided to take a language course and look for a better job afterwards.

Because of the large number of people from Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria etc. we had to wait two months for the training.

In the process we changed schools because there were no results. And now on the 14th of January we took the exam, but we have not got the result yet. If it is lower than B1, I have to study for three more months and then I can look for a job. I am not yet fluent in German, but I understand almost everything. I try to watch the news and even films in German, but I still find it hard to speak.

My daughter was at first in a German public school, but very soon she was transferred to the gymnasium - she is the only Ukrainian in the school who was taken from the adaptation class to German. Now she is learning Latin and doing well in maths but is still struggling with literature and history. For the rest it is easier, she passed German with A2. The Germans are helping, they understand that she needs time to adapt.

Lyubov Burlakova with her daughter Lada

It is hard to make plans now. I would like my daughter to learn the language and get a higher education in Germany. And I need to prove my teaching diploma, which is hard and expensive. But working as a teacher here is quite prestigious and well paid, and in addition there is a shortage of teachers in schools and kindergartens in Nuremberg. Of course, you could also work as a dishwasher or a maid, but I still want to learn German and work in my profession.

Recorded by: Irina Fedolyak

Cover photo: from the archive of L. Burlakova

“Mum, it’s me, Sonya. I am alive, Mum!” Yulia from Monaco returned to Ukraine to find and rescue her daughters.

“Mum, it’s me, Sonya. I am alive, Mum!” Yulia from Monaco returned to Ukraine to find and rescue her daughters.


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