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"We didn't think such social support existed anywhere." One day with a refugee family in Germany


A TrendzEurope journalist Maria Sorokina spent a day in the families of refugees from Ukraine in Germany.

According to official figures at the beginning of May, almost 400,000 refugees were registered in the country, while the real number is probably much higher. About how difficult was their way to Europe, what is the current financial support and what their everyday life is like now - this is our story.

Elena (46), Illarion, Sergey and Anya (17, 11 and 5 years old), Kharkiv:

- Kharkiv started was bombed on February 24 at 5 a.m. At first we thought it was a drill, or a plumbing blew up, but a few minutes later it became clear that everything was much worse. People were running out of their homes, packing their cars. After half an hour, there were long lines at all gas stations in Kharkiv. By 6 o'clock in the morning there was no gasoline and no bread in the stores. I honestly thought that it was for 2-3 days... But in the end it turned into a nightmare. We were shelled. They came to the city, surrounded it and started bombing. We were sitting in shelters.

My husband said: - "Save the children'' and put us on a train to Lviv.

The way from Kharkiv to Lviv took 19 hours.

- There were people everywhere - in the vestibule, in the aisles, it was impossible to reach the toilet. Well, so we took the younger one a potty. From 4 PM to 4 AM there was no light in the train, the little children were crying. From Lviv to Polish Przemysl we spent another ten hours, of which eight hours the train was just standing in the field - no communication, no food. Later it turned out that it was a "traffic jam" of trains at the Polish border.

Helena reached Berlin from Przemysl, where they were put up for three nights in a hotel. Leaving the younger ones behind, she went with the older Illarion to the main train station to find food and lodging.

- A loudspeaker at the train station announced who was looking for lodging. I was lucky and a young couple from Berlin, Nicholas and Charlotte, accommodated us. They picked us up from the hotel and put us up at their place.

In the morning we woke up and saw a note written in Ukrainian in the kitchen - "You are welcome. Make yourselves at home!".

Charlotte and Nicholas looked after the younger kids while my eldest and I drove around looking for an apartment. A little later we found an option in Potsdam.

In Potsdam, Helena was offered a room with a kitchen in a hotel until the end of March. So as not to bother the sympathetic couple from Berlin, they decided to move there straight away.

- It took them two hours to get to Potsdam, not knowing the Berlin subway well. The younger Anya was ill.

By the evening, when we arrived at the place, we were told that the hotel had been given to a covid hospital. It was a moment of desperation. Right outside I burst into tears of helplessness and awareness that once again I would be alone on the street with three children.

The hotel offered us the only option - to go to a refugee camp. Nicholas suggested that we return to Berlin. But when we went to the camp, we thought we would at least spend the night there. A German girl came up to us in the camp and offered us a place to stay for three nights. I was grateful that my children had a place to rest.

"You're crying again, Mom," says five-year-old Anya. The very next day, Elena's family was helped to find an apartment in Brunswick, where they live till now.

Elena and Anya

- The whole time we were going nowhere. But what to do? Thanks to kind people. In Braunschweig we were helped to register, find a school for the eldest and a kindergarten for the youngest. I'm on a waiting list for a German language course. The language is very necessary, it's hard to live without it. By profession, I am an accountant, most likely I will have to retrain here, the profession is not in demand in Germany. But the state cannot feed us forever either, I understand that, people have to work.

For the four of us we now get 1000 euros a month. They also promised to help financially with furniture, to buy something for the apartment. Accommodation and utilities, with the exception of electricity and internet, are paid by the municipality. We learn to save money - to take a quick shower, to turn off the light, to sort the garbage. All children already have bicycles, one was a gift from neighbors, the other two were bought for 10 euros.

Like most of the refugees who came to Germany, Elena's husband and relatives stayed in Ukraine.

- We live in one day. The war in Kharkiv is not over, there are a lot of guns in the city, a lot of places are mined. My husband stayed there, he says it takes at least a year to figure out what to do next. The infrastructure is destroyed - people have no light, no water. It is not possible for me to take my children there now. Of course, it's hard without my husband, we call each other every day.

My sons and daughter are always asking what to do to get their father to come. But while we are in Germany, the children are safe and well, and that is the most important thing.

Tatiana (42) and Anastasia (15), Brovary:

- Back then, in February, I refused to believe in what was happening. That war was possible in the 21st century.

We did not sit in basements for long. However, some of our neighbors actually lived there, afraid to go back to their apartments, afraid to sleep, because sirens and explosions were heard everywhere. You never know if this time your house is going to be hit or not.

To avoid repeating the events of Bucha, Mariupol, and Gostomel, we decided in mid-March that we had to leave. Fortunately, my friend and my daughter's godmother live in Brunswick, and they helped us get to Germany via Warsaw and find a place to live here. We live with a family and the Germans are kind to us, they help us in any way they can. They gave us cutlery, dishes and a bed, and they always ask if we need anything else. While I'm not working, I try to help them in some way. My daughter is already in school.

Nastya says that her peers speak German very quickly and it's not easy to understand them. Therefore, while at school she communicates with the children in English. Tatiana is a music teacher by profession, a teacher of Ukrainian language and literature, she worked in Kyiv in kindergarten and as a school administrator.

- It is hard to say what I can do in Germany. I heard that there were plans to launch a project involving teachers from Ukraine who do not know the language yet. But this is not a matter of principle, I'm ready to learn a new profession, we understand that we did not come here to rest. Besides, life in Germany is much more expensive than in Ukraine. Now I signed up for a language course from the "Red Cross" and I am learning German. We met friendly people everywhere , once we got lost in the city they quickly helped us find our way around, and offered to help.

Tatiana's husband and relatives stayed near Kyiv, in Brovary.

- My parents are over 75 years old. Even when they sat for a month without light and gas, they did not agree to evacuate. That's where their life is.

At the moment we don't know if we're going back. It's impossible to plan. Brovary is mined, now, due to security reasons, people only move through certain streets.

Almost daily news comes in that some tractor was blown up on mines in the field. In Brovary there are the largest food warehouses in Ukraine. They were also bombed.

Tatiana and Anastasia

Of course, we want the war to end as soon as possible. I hope very much that Ukrainians will soon be able to return to their homes, to their normal lives. I want to thank all the countries that are now hosting us!

The main thing is that we are alive and in good health, but still, when we see an airplane flying over, we always wonder if it is a civilian.

Harsh sounds are like explosions, you cannot stop listening. And it will not go away for a long time.

Yekaterina (71), Elena (36), Dmitry (13) and two dogs Marusya and Zarina, Kyiv:

- On February 24, we were in Kyiv. In the morning my husband woke me up and told me that Boryspil airport had been bombed.

I couldn't believe what was happening, it seemed that in a couple of days we would go to work again and everything would be the same.

However, we spent three days in a basement. We were luckier than others - the basement in our house is clean and dry, while there are houses where there is sand, cockroaches, and mice on the floor. Everyone was confident it would be over quickly, I did not see any panic among the neighbors. Periodically I went up to the apartment, the first day I walked about 80 floors since we weren’t using the elevator. We bought the apartment recently and were renovating, so there were essentially no safe places.

On the third day it was calm and we decided to spend the night in the apartment. At night, through the big windows of the living room we saw the air defense system working over CHP-6. The next morning the news said that a missile had mistakenly hit an apartment building in the Zhulyany district, blowing up apartments on the 17th to 21st floors. And then it was really frightening, we no longer believed that only military objects would be bombed. At the same time, civilians in Kyiv started receiving weapons from the government. Then we decided to leave Kyiv and go to Boguslav, fearing that Kyiv might be under siege. After staying in Boguslav for a week, we realized that the situation in Ukraine was escalating and we decided to go abroad.

From Boguslav, Elena's family traveled by car to Moldova.

- It was the shortest way from Ukraine, I was afraid to go to the Polish border - too long under the open sky. I have never spent so much time behind the wheel in my life.

On our way through the Ukrainian villages we saw old men with pitchforks, ready to defend their families and their country.

In Moldova we were told that there was no place to stay overnight, so we drove to Romania without a rest. We spent two days in Romania and went to Hungary, where we had acquaintances.

Then we drove to Vienna. It had been a dream of mine for a long time. I understood that no one knows how life will develop further so we decided to visit the capital of Austria for one day. Then we traveled through the Czech Republic to Göttingen, Germany. We sincerely hoped we would soon turn around and go home.

We were placed in a refugee camp in Friedland, given a private room and allowed to stay with our dogs. Two days later we moved into the school building, following the bus. I was very worried that the car would stall, the gas was low and we wouldn't be able to catch up with the bus. But in the end we made it safely from Göttingen to Braunschweig.
In Brunswick, Elena, Dmitri and Catherine lived in the school for almost a month, and then moved into a bright three-bedroom apartment. Now the family is settling in, buying furniture.  The municipality allocates, depending on the size of the household, up to 5000 euros for these needs. Elena's family was given 2,900 euros to buy furniture.

- I am a lawyer by profession and was ready to start working in Germany straight away, I know English well. But finding a job here is not as easy as, for example, in Ukraine, now we are waiting for the documents, after which we can look for work. My son studied in Kyiv in German grammar school, so he has almost no problems with language, which is a big advantage. He has already managed to go to Hartz mountains for three days during spring vacation together with his class. My mom and I are also learning German.

Our everyday life is full of everyday issues, registration of documents, even to make an appointment to the doctor - the whole problem is language barrier. We take all the furniture up to the fourth floor and assemble it ourselves. I have already learned how to use a drill.

The apartment for Elena's family is rented for one year.

Yekaterina and Elena

- We are sincerely grateful to Germany and the Germans, we didn't think such social support existed anywhere at all.

We didn't expect such a warm welcome, provision of a spacious apartment, not a barrack. The infrastructure of Kyiv is not destroyed, only the approaches to the city have suffered, which are now being actively restored. As soon as martial law is lifted in Ukraine, we plan to return home.

Author: Maria Sorokina

Photos by the author

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