Nadia (36) talks about her escape from Ukraine

I was born and grew up in the small town of Vovchansk near Kharkiv on the Russian border.

In 2004, I went to study in Kharkiv and stayed there. I studied aviation for six years and graduated as an aeronautical engineer, but never worked in my profession. Studying hadn't really been my idea anyway, it was actually just my father's dream. He had got me the place at university because he liked to be proud of me. Just by graduating, I gave him that pleasure. It has to be said, though, that in Ukraine you earn nowhere near what you get in Germany as an engineer. A degree there is often more of a prestige thing.

Even during my studies, I worked part-time as the managing director of a construction company and continued to do so after graduation. You don't need an education for that in Ukraine. I earned money, but I didn't really enjoy it. That's why I started to turn my creative talent into a profession as a beautician. In 2013, I started my own business and worked from home in the beginning. Through advertising on the internet, things went really well. In the end, I had my own beauty salon and a school where I gave courses.

I also got married in 2013. That was a year before Russia annexed Crimea. At the time, we didn't believe that the conflict could actually escalate into such a war. We lived relatively carefree in Kharkiv until 2022.

Then, when it started on 24 February last year, we were jolted out of sleep at five o'clock in the morning by sirens and the bombardment. We heard the impact of the bombs and on the radio they said that Russian troops had crossed the nearby border and were advancing on Kharkiv. We panicked, reflexively gathered only the most necessary things, got into the car and drove off without knowing where to go. Just away!

Most civilians thought the same as we did. The result was long queues of cars and traffic jams on the roads. We tried to get there via dirt roads, through the forest, sometimes even via roads that were no longer actually roads.

We were on the road like this for five days. We slept in overcrowded hotels or with "new relatives", people we didn't know at all, but who were willing to help. Of course, we were always informed about what was happening via radio and internet.

On the drive, we feverishly thought about where we should go. I phoned around wildly, called all sorts of people and then my stepfather finally said I should try his son. My stepbrother lives in Mukachevo. That's in western Ukraine in the Carpathians. Although I didn't know him at all, I called him from the car and he said he had a flat for us and could take us in.

There were no bombings in Mukachevo, but the sirens were wailing there too and I didn't feel safe. The pictures in the media scared me. So I looked for ways to leave the country. I had 7,000 followers on Instagram and just asked where I could go.

Some advised me to go to Poland, others to Germany. Germany seemed safer to me. Then a coincidence helped me decide. One of my participants in a cosmetics course wrote me that her mother lived in Augsburg. I got in touch with her and she offered me the chance to stay with her for a while.

Five days after we arrived at my stepbrother's, I went on alone by train to Augsburg. My husband was not allowed to leave the country. I haven't had much contact with my stepbrother since then. But if he needs help, I am always ready to help him.

So that's how I came to Germany. After two months, I moved on to another family in Augsburg. I stayed there again for some time and then moved on again to another family where I stayed for eight months. The people were all incredibly helpful and nice and I still have good contact with them, but at some point it became too much for them, which I could understand. Of course it was very difficult to find something suitable, but since March 2023 I finally have my own flat.

My husband also managed to leave in July 2022. I don't know how he did it. We had actually already grown apart before we fled, and the months of separation only intensified and accelerated that. We are now divorced and he lives in Munich. He has his own life and a decent job. We have a good relationship with each other.

In April 2022 I started learning German in an integration course. But I also always wanted to work. That's why I talked to my job centre advisor in October about starting my own business as a beautician again. He didn't think it was a good idea, said I couldn't earn enough and should learn more German first.

Through an acquaintance, however, I found a tax consultant who helped me with the papers to register my own business. Since then I have been working as a self-employed beautician again. I still managed to get the B1 certificate at the end of 2022.

Separately from my flat, I now have a small office where I work. I also give courses again, including online courses in which I teach women how to improve their make-up. I can make a living from it, but I've also realised how important it is to learn German even better in order to get more German clients. The language is indeed the biggest problem.

I will definitely continue with make-up, but recently I found a new goal: I want to become a nurse. Ever since I was young, after the early death of my mother, I dreamed of becoming a doctor. My mother died of a heart attack when I was sixteen. At that time I wanted to become a good cardiologist and save people. Now I have come back to that idea. Becoming a doctor probably won't work out anymore, but becoming a nurse is a very realistic goal. For that I need good German skills, now I have even more motivation to learn it.

In Germany, I feel comfortable and safe and see good prospects for myself. In Kharkiv I have no one since my dad died 3 years ago. I am free now and also ready for a new relationship. In Germany it's easier to be a woman, maybe for security reasons. I feel more relaxed. The men are completely different here. They are more respectful towards women, more well-groomed, more sporty and stable.

I am used to working and I like the fact that in Germany you earn money when you work. Unfortunately, when you work in Ukraine, it's not at all certain that you have enough money to live on.

In the short time I've been here, I've already achieved a lot. And even supposed mistakes eventually brought me experience, new contacts and energy. My advice to everyone who comes here: Do what you enjoy, go your own way. The doors are always open.

What I don't like so much here is the bureaucracy. But I still prefer bureaucracy to corruption. I want to stay in Germany.


Thank you, Nadia, for having the courage to tell this story here!