Hello, my name is Marina, here in Germany I am a Ukrainian refugee, that's what it says in my passport now. Today it has been exactly one year, five months and twenty-five days since the life of my country and the Ukrainian people, as well as the life of my family, ceased to be divided into a before and an after, but became an uninterrupted after, as if there was nothing before. Values, meanings and all points of reference were lost.
24.02.2022, 4:30. Kyiv region. Bukhanskiy district, Vishnevoye.
We woke up from a loud clapping, but rather from the feeling that the house would
would collapse like a house of cards. I grabbed the baby from the crib, asked my husband what was going on, but he didn't answer, and we ran to the first floor, where my mother was already on the phone with my sister. She lived in Bucha. I don't know how long it took until the second explosion, at that moment the sense of time was lost, I was in panic. I was running around the apartment with the baby in my arms, not knowing what to do next or what was going on. The second explosion came louder and closer, the house shook again.
The next moment there was pure chaos: a few unnecessary things in a suitcase, filling all containers with water, incoming calls on all phones, panic in the chat rooms, collecting food, the cities went online on TV and announced a special action. It was just a shock: something like this in 2022 in the centre of Europe!
By the way, I had no idea that there were already threats to the country at that time, because I was living in a new phase of my life after maternity leave, and even if I had heard, I would never have believed it.
My sister was already on her way to us when we heard about the Bucha bridge being blown up.
The time until the call seemed like an eternity. Then the sister's trembling voice: "I did it..."
A pounding in my temples, a haze before my eyes and an animal fear of the unknown, and only an inner voice said, "Quick, quick, run,
get out of here, now!" Where to? How? And why? No one had any answers.
We grabbed a few suitcases of belongings that we had simply put together from things and documents we had found along the way and went down to the street. But before we could even leave the stairwell, two fighter jets flew ten metres above us.
My husband grabbed me and the baby and pushed me out through the next door. My daughter was very scared and started crying. Within a few minutes, the neighbours of the whole house were already downstairs opening the cellars. Another explosion!
It was clear that it was not safe to stay in the basement even for a minute because it was too deep and had only one exit. It was not a shelter.
I had never felt such animal fear and panic. We quickly ran out of the cellar, got into the car and just drove off. Without having a plan or understanding or comprehending the risks of this trip, we just looked on the map for the furthest city as close as possible to the border with an EU country, we chose Chernivtsi.
It seemed reasonable, although it is hard to call all the decisions we made reasonable. Then I realised that there were no right or wrong decisions, only decisions that no one knew at the time what was right, reasonable, appropriate. At that time there was only the maternal instinct and the survival instinct, the maternal instinct was the strongest. I only ever thought about the child.
The road was difficult and long, we only drove on country roads and through small towns and villages, avoiding the main roads because the navigation system showed traffic jams, with absolutely nothing moving, for dozens of kilometres. The side roads seemed safer.
Fastov. 24.02.2022. 15.30 hrs.
It was getting dark early. 80 kilometres from our home, where we had left at 8.00 am. In all the time we had travelled, only 80 kilometres! Then our car stopped in the middle of the road. It started up again briefly, made a terrible roar and then didn't go any further. According to the sat nav, the nearest garage was thirty-five kilometres away, and it was doubtful whether the sat nav was working properly.
There was only one house with lit windows where we wanted to go to heat up some food for the baby and make a decision.
There was no end to the desperation, but an inner voice kept urging, "We don't have time, we have to go, run, walk, crawl, whatever ..."
A few minutes later, a woman opened the door. She was about sixty-five years old and apologised for keeping us waiting - she had a bedridden husband and she wanted to help him first.
We asked to warm the baby's porridge if possible and we ourselves stayed outside so as not to embarrass anyone. But the woman insisted that we come in and drink tea. We couldn't refuse, we told her our story, with the car breaking down and how it was in Kiev. The husband, who was in the next room, asked us to come in, he heard the conversation and said he would try to help us with the car. He would call a mechanic who could try to fix it for us, but they promised nothing, as he only specialised in agricultural machinery and high-proof alcohol.
Knowing that we would be stuck until morning, we went to the nearest hotel that we could walk to as soon as possible to decide what to do next.
In the morning, the curfew ended at 7.00 a.m. We had stayed in a hotel that was already completely darkened. There were no lights, there was no light anywhere. We were staying in two rooms. When I went downstairs to get some hot water at the reception, I saw a foreign nationality. A man who was staring at me very intensely. To be honest, I was scared, he was different, "not one of us"! I thought, "A Buryat? A Mongolian? Where is he from?" We decided to leave before curfew ended, no one could sleep.
The hotel owner still scolded me kindly for my bare feet in Uggs and gave me socks. I wanted to believe that these socks would be ours, would save us and protect us. I had to believe in something. I believe at that moment we were being guided by some forces and soulmates. The souls sent us help in the form of these incredible people.
The mechanic proudly announced after an hour of work that everything was ready and we could drive the car for a while. The breakdown was serious, but everything was fixed. We didn't investigate anything, we just trusted his words and thanked him.
We reached Chernivtsi at 5.30 pm and settled down for the night at the home of an acquaintance we had found by chance. The border was fifteen kilometres away and we decided to wait in Czernowitz for the time being, to stay a few days and observe the situation.
But then fear overcame us and at 3.40 am we were already at the border, well, almost at the border, because we were the last in the 20 km long queue. We stood in the queue until 4.00 pm. When it became clear that we had only advanced about six kilometres, and when we saw that a lot of people left their cars at the side of the road and just went on foot, some with children in their arms, with animals, with suitcases, with nothing at all, we decided to go on foot too.
No one knew what to expect at customs. The only information passed on in the queue was that the men were no longer allowed out. It wasn't fear anymore, it wasn't even despair, it was a whole new level of realisation of hopelessness. It was the moral nadir. That's what I thought at the time: it was rock bottom. But later it turned out that there was a second low point underneath the low point.
I wouldn't let the baby out of my arms for a minute, I wouldn't give my daughter away even for a moment. I wouldn't even give her to my husband, my sister or my mother, even if my arms went numb from the weight. I always felt that she would be taken away from me, that she would be stolen from me or that I couldn't be there for her, that she wouldn't be with me if something happened.
We pulled over to the side of the road, thinking that we could make it with one suitcase with the most necessary belongings for three people and a small suitcase for the baby with food and water. We couldn't carry the rest.
But that was also a wrong assumption, because on the way, when we started walking, we realised it was too much. We went back and took only one suitcase for the baby. As we were stowing the other suitcase in the car, a man came up to us who was difficult to understand because he spoke a strange dialect. We only understood that he offered to take us directly to the border, bypassing the villages. At the border he wanted to wait for another woman to pick us up. We agreed, but as we drove down a country road in an unknown direction, we had a bad feeling, and that was also accompanied by an argument about how the war had started, and he blamed eastern Ukraine. But then he took us to the border after all.
The border crossing was very difficult, many people had been standing in front of it for twenty-four hours, many with hypothermia, many fainting. They opened the gates for parents with children, they were let in in batches. Then there was a break of one to one and a half hours, although only women with children stood at the gate.
The men, who were not allowed out themselves, tried to push their families through the gates when they were opened again. It was a total mess, chaos, screaming, crying children and pressure. Pure hell! I only got through with my daughter, my mother and sister stayed outside the gate.
It's hard to describe the experience of crossing the border and being separated from my husband and my thoughts and feelings, so I'll just say that we waited in the pedestrian area in the neutral zone for another five hours or so until they let my mother and sister in.
We were allowed into Romania, and although they said they would let us in without a passport, only with a Ukrainian ID, it turned out that wasn't quite the case after all, at least on the second day of the war. My mother only had Ukrainian papers, because purely by chance she had come from Kharkiv to be with her granddaughter for a fortnight because the babysitters were ill and I had a new job.
My mother was told that she would not be able to get on in Romania, we were separated and she was left with hundreds of other people waiting for buses to take them to the refugee camps. Their papers were taken away from them. There was no communication. Everything that happened afterwards I don't want to experience again and therefore I don't want to describe it, sorry!
I just want to say that we couldn't take Mum out of the camp. She was kept with the others in a field in tents under strict security and not even relatives were allowed in with them. We contacted volunteers who helped us get my mother released after a week and a half. There was a stamp on her documents that she was not allowed to leave Romania.
We stayed in Romania for a total of three weeks while we took care of everything. During this time we found many people who just wanted to help where they could.
I would like to say that the people in Romania are incredible, they took in the
They took in the refugees in a very organised way. Right after the border they provided tents with heating and lighting, where they distributed everything, absolutely everything - new warm clothes, baby clothes, prams, blankets, food, food, warmth and tea, medical care, organised free transfers and free accommodation in hotels for as long as we needed them, as much as we needed, it was an incredible support, help and unity.
That was the first time I cried. I discovered this people and saw a completely different side of them, they are very similar to us in their willingness to help, to give their last, very good-natured, freedom-loving and kind. There are no words to express my gratitude for everything Romania has done for the Ukrainians.
During my stay in Romania I had made a plan where to go next. It was clear that it was too early to return home, it was necessary to stay away still. My husband insisted that I should go to Germany with my child and my mother because his mother lives there. I was strictly against it. I didn't want to be separated from my sister, who had decided to go to Switzerland. I wanted us all to be together in those moments of life, but then only my sister went to Switzerland.
From then on, we travelled like normal tourists, we didn't accept help from volunteers, we didn't follow the routes and trains of the other refugees, we didn't accept anything for free because we had seen how many people were really in need, and besides, we didn't want to be associated with refugees. It is difficult to describe these thoughts and feelings.
Besides, we didn't know if my mother would be allowed to enter Germany. So we decided to get there in stages - first my sister, my daughter and I arrived in Hanover. My mother stayed in Romania. Every day I heard and saw on my smartphone how she was getting weaker and her health and emotional condition were deteriorating.
We had just lost our father six months before, the war, the camp, the worsening of chronic illnesses, and she didn't want to go to Germany because historically, since the Second World War, it's in my grandparents' DNA, their history, that they wanted nothing to do with Germany.
But at the end of the day we were reunited in Hanover and the next stage came. We were now refugees under paragraph 24 with the right to work. That was the only thing that seemed good at the time.
Amidst an endless stream of thoughts about how to proceed, whether to just wait until I could go home again, or to learn the language, who I am here, what my rights are, what the laws of the land are, what I could do, what I couldn't do, I was constantly afraid that if my child cried in public, they would take her away from me and put her in a German family. Lots of fantasies, lots of ignorance, not even being able to plan a day in advance. Later I realised that you are not the same and never will be, you have lost yourself, you have lost your orientation, everything you have strived for so long has no value anymore and you have to start all over again, you have to build new pillars and see new points of reference. Many thoughts were driving me. Why did the pillars collapse, were they not pillars? It was complete zero.
I am 34 years old, I am from Kharkiv, by my first training I am a general practitioner - family doctor. I completed my professional internship year and did my duty to the state with a pure soul in a specialty I did not want.
After that I went into the pharmaceutical industry. I was there since 2013. I started as a company representative, then I realised that I should develop in marketing and finished my second university education - marketing, management of pharmaceutical companies, and my career turned 180 degrees. I worked in global pharmaceutical companies - Pfizer, GlaxoSmithkline, a national pharmaceutical company in Ukraine.
After enjoying my job as a brand manager, I finally moved to the city of my dreams - Kiev, met wonderful creative, professional people, there were a lot of events, travel, movement. I met my husband and gave birth to a beautiful little girl.
Of course, not everything went smoothly, and now the problems that seemed insurmountable then are like little things that just needed to be solved. There in the past life were aspirations, ambitions, dreams, goals, passion for life, hell yes. And success, my own personal success and achievements, yes even if that may seem meaningless to some others.
During my maternity leave, I realised where I would be at the end of my life. I wanted to be at the peak of my career and to achieve that, I decided to change companies. I had been there for so long and had developed professionally.
I was invited to join a company and a team that I could only dream of as soon as possible, everything was as I had imagined.
It was a company with a great mission and values, it was about science and saving patients - I was invited to work in a hospital with a portfolio of blood, plasma and life-saving drugs for people with rare diseases, among other things. This was deep medicine and science, this was real Big Pharma.
My husband is a cardiologist, but he also worked for a pharmaceutical company, my sister has a PhD in medicine, worked with patients for a dozen years and wrote her thesis, her dissertation, but she also went into the pharmaceutical industry. And it's not just about money, it's about the mission, the great scientific mission in medicine, and yes, it sounds strange and hard to believe. But it is because of pharmaceutical companies and their research that our medicine is evolving and people are getting modern treatments with the latest drugs.
My mother retired, but she continued to teach at the university, which kept her going and kept her going even after my father died. My father was a highly skilled development engineer who had carried out some of the most complex government contracts.
We were on the way to our dreams, we had goals that we achieved, we lived our lives, mostly the way we wanted to, and sometimes the way we could.
I am writing this to tell you once again who we are: Ukrainians, I am writing about our country, our culture, our people and our values. We did not flee a bad life, we did not flee poverty and loss of reality. We fled war to save our children. We are a nation of intelligent, highly educated, spiritual people. Open-minded, original, authentic people, we are a country with technological and digital progress, a country with cool specialists and professionals.
We have academic education, sometimes more than one, we are not a third world country as people sometimes try to portray, we are far ahead of many European countries in some areas, and our most important values are our people, our culture, our traditions, our food, our spirit and our unwavering patriotism.
Yes, of course, as in any other nation, there are people who are clearly outside of all this, and for them perhaps emigration really is a chance to give a new start to one's unrealised life or a lost soul. But it is what it is....
I would also definitely like to tell you, dear reader, that Ukrainian women are incredibly beautiful, well-groomed, intelligent, smart and loyal, wonderful wives and mothers and morally and physically strong. We are real women. But other judgements also have their place, and perhaps the above-mentioned peculiarity of people also exists regardless of nationality.
Mid-April 2022. For a few days we just slept. I got used to the idea that it's safe to let the baby out of my arms, that it's safe to go to the supermarket, that it's safe to go to the shop, that my daughter can be with her grandmothers for fifteen minutes. No one is going to take her away from me. For a long time my daughter threw a tantrum, became hysterical at every sound of an aeroplane or a fallen object in the street.
What will happen to our children? We are a traumatised generation, they are a traumatised generation, and I don't think there is any argument against bringing your child out and saving them. It is a duty! It is the duty of every parent.
My sister first came to Switzerland to a host family and applied for asylum, soon found a job and changed her visa to a work visa. I was very inspired by this example, and I would like to say that it is not impossible. And that there are always possibilities, and that life can change even in times like these. It's just a question of whether we are ready for it. And what price we are willing to pay. Everything, really everything, has a price that you have to pay. Even for free, voluntary things taken without real need. Most of the time, the fee for this is not money, but small things, expectations.
And we entered the ten circles of paperwork hell in Germany. There was no help and we didn't ask for it, we did everything ourselves with the Google translator. How dark times enlighten people! Unfortunately, there was no support from family and friends. If there was help, it was from complete strangers. That was probably the biggest disappointment and discovery at the time.
You need like-minded people, your own people, that is the greatest reward and value.
That's what keeps you going, what keeps you moving forward. Moving on, re-evaluating many things in life, weeding out the unnecessary, learning and realising what real relationships and friendships are. And what your values are, and maybe finally answer the question: Who am I? I am grateful to everyone who has come in and out of my life. For having met or found and embraced each other.
Parallel to these realisations ran the leisurely German bureaucratic endless cycle of rules, principles, forms and letters. By post, by mail - my goodness!
I am still amazed by these miraculous processes and by some incomprehensible procedures. I had to stem the tide of indignation and inner protest, and above all I did not want to accept the lack of digitalisation and automation of processes. But the rejection was not only this, it was a rejection of the country, the people, the German language, other refugees, other nationalities, in short, of everything! It was not about me, it was very far from my mentality, my temperament, my understanding of life and how it should be. But in fact, nobody owed me anything, I had to accept it.
And finally, all these processes have grown in the country, historically, spiritually, evolutionarily. For some reason in this time there is the process of filtering people, as horrible as that word sounds. The sorting of people when they are recognised as refugees. It is a filtration process.
And it was quite obvious, because there was a lot of information with the message: "You have nothing to gain here as a refugee!", "You have to integrate!", "Germans hate you, because you live off their taxes".
It is not realistic to achieve anything here. It's not realistic to find a flat, it's not realistic to prove you have a diploma, it's not realistic to get a job, it's not realistic to learn the language, and so on.
I was at the end of my tether. And I began to realise that the common language with the Russian late repatriates is not an advantage, but rather a bad joke.
Many of these negative reservations about Germany came from them, but it was their experience, not mine. And I wanted to have my own experiences.
But even without that, it was difficult to understand that you have to prove to everyone that you are human and that you have a right to an acceptable life, that your child has the right to cry in a public place.
It was difficult to understand that social welfare is temporary, difficult to make it clear that I don't want to "sit on the neck" of any German worker, don't want to live on the back of the German working class. It seemed to me that everyone looked at us and hated us and everyone had only one thought: "Someone has come again to live off social security while the Germans are working."
I am very grateful to the German government for letting us work, really. It's the best thing that can happen to you here, apart from maybe the luck of marrying one of those insanely good-looking Germans! Sorry, I got carried away ...
So the first thing I did was to sign us up for a German course. There I met Ukrainians like me, we talked a lot and exchanged ideas, it became easier. Many people were just waiting for everything to be over so they could go home, many people shared their experiences of life in German families. That's when I realised how tolerant this country is. I saw real examples of how Germans supported and helped us Ukrainians: with finding a flat, with finding a job, with looking after the children and also elementary with deadlines and paperwork. My experience did not correspond to the general trend in the country, I was glad about that. But still, many people returned to Ukraine.
And here I learned the following lesson: I was never afraid of losing people.
I thought that there are no irreplaceable people, but there are! I met a friend, she could have built a life here, she is only twenty, she knows German and English.
But she was supposed to do a language course for six months to be accepted at the University of Leipzig, yes, and then graduate one year later than in Ukraine. I am proud of her, she is the future of Ukraine. She is beautiful in her soul, in her look, in her depth and in her life values. At the beginning she started to take antidepressants because her psyche couldn't stand it anymore, and after a month she went back to Odessa. She is doing well there, she has calmed down. She feels comfortable there, she is in her place. She says to herself: "So what if it is not safe and I may die here, but here I am at home, here I live! And there I existed as the dregs of society." My little friend left.
The most important thing she taught me then was to appreciate people and to believe that your people are out there and that you will meet them everywhere. But the experience in emigration is ultimately different.
I've seen a lot of Ukrainians trying to move on. They try to learn the language, integrate, some of them even make it and travel. In the one year I've been living in Hanover, I haven't attended a single event or attraction, I haven't taken my child to a single children's event because I didn't think it was the time. In Ukraine one tragedy after another happens, how can I live my life here?
It was a big mistake. The child was not integrated, closed himself off and did not want to communicate with other children, not even in "his own language". There was no place in the kindergartens. She couldn't and wouldn't speak, which caused a lot of inner conflict.
Even here in emigration we have a right to life, feelings. It was our decision to leave and no one has the right to judge her and tell us what we should have done. No one has the right to say that another person's tragedy, their story, their pain, their experience is less important than what we experience every day in Ukraine.
At the same time, Hanover seemed to me to be a city of strong contrasts. Every time I saw injecting drug addicts putting their next dose in their groin right at the main train station, I realised this. I realised that maybe my hermitage was for the best, because I didn't want to live here. I don't want to live here, this is not how I imagined my child's future.
Medicine too - a shock, that's all I'll say! The only question is: How can this nation reach such a respectable age and continue to drink wine on Saturday morning? How do they do it with an ibuprofen? I can only assume that they seem to understand how their health system works and find the right doctor. I am still in the process of understanding this system....
Well, on the positive side, I also have something to say:
1. we thanked and refused the social housing we were offered, a room in a tin shack in a field, after we were offered something better: a dormitory with a toilet for two floors. For some reason they were very persistent and threatened us with some kind of sanctions if we refused three times. People were living there without knowing that it could be done differently.
I resumed the flat search on my own. An additional incentive was my mother-in-law, whose flat I had to leave as soon as possible. Here I had to accept the realisation that years of work with a psychologist on parent-child relationships and relationships with the mother-in-law had not worked.
I found the flat in a completely unexpected way, simply by trying to take advantage of every opportunity that life had to offer. After receiving a simple promotional card from a young politician who was running for the SPD, I wrote to him and asked if he might be able to help me find a flat. After two weeks I got a reply with an offer.
2. I really wanted to live without the money from the Job Centre and try to get back into medicine and open a practice in the future. After researching further, I realised that at best it would take five or six years to get my medical degree. I couldn't afford that. Ever.
I went for an interview at a rehabilitation centre, I was offered a job as a housekeeper. Of course, I was not allowed to see the patients.
I asked myself what I could do now. I could work in a pharmaceutical company and continue travelling. I started with applications: for all global jobs, which were in English. There were many failures because German turned out to be compulsory in the end. I had many unsuccessful interviews, but after four months of searching, I was invited for an interview at a well-known German pharmaceutical company, Bionorica, and after three rounds of interviews starting 01.01.2023, I got the position of junior brand manager in the company.
Well, let it go or lower your standards. But this was such an opportunity in life.
3. And then life in the new beginning was filled with light and events, there was hope and confidence in the future in this country. I met and I continue to meet people, but different, with a different culture, nationality, mentality and it is great to get to know the world through people, very open, tolerant, interesting, with a different vision of life. With a different opinion, they inspire, teach us something and have different answers.
4. I sold the car. Well, how did I sell it? I gave it away for next to nothing. It was a car I had bought in Hanover. You shouldn't buy old, cheap cars. There were more problems with it than with the Job Centre! The price I had paid when I bought it and had to sell it for were far from its true value. Thanks guys!!!
5. I took driving courses to get my licence recognised and passed the theory test. I wanted the EU driving licence and in this case the general rules and the German test apply.
At the driving school I met a wonderful man who showed me another example of successful integration and a happy life in Germany. He showed me the opportunities that exist in Germany. He has two successful businesses, he also came from Ukraine many years ago. Everything worked out. It was difficult, but he was able to achieve everything, to live and work for the good of the country and for his family. And you should talk to such people. They are the ones who can support you and stand by you.
6. I leased a brand new car from Salon, model 2022, was proud, moved to Bavaria. Everyone lives here in a different way, here is a different life and are different people.
And also no matter what they told you and if they tried to make you feel guilty about the fact that you fled and they are still there living in basements, don't take the blame, everyone has their own reality and it is an unfortunate fact that these realities can persist. We have different hurts. And God grant us all the wisdom to come through this drama with dignity and return home after victory. In the meantime, it is important to integrate.
Please learn the language, communicate with the Germans, don't be afraid, they will definitely support and help you, it can even be fun and they have really funny jokes, cool music, interesting history and culture, but make sure to speak German even if you make mistakes. And look at the country. Take an interest in life, believe me, it's nowhere near as bad as it seems. Accept all the internal processes within yourself and the country. Don't wait to come back home! There are so many things. Learn from this country and these people! LIVE THE LIFE!
20.08.2023 Neumarkt in der Oberfalz. The story is written.
I believe in ZSU and in God.
ZSU is the Ukrainian abbreviation for the Armed Forces (Zbroyni syly Ukrayiny/Збройні сили України).
Thank you, Marina, for having the courage to tell this story here!