Olha from Kyiv witnessed the start of the Russian attack in February on the night train. The fear of those hours is still in her bones. She sees her future in Berlin first.
Olha wants to stay in Germany, for now.
The young woman with the big smile says she knows a number of compatriots who have returned to Ukraine in the past few weeks – because they could not have endured it without their relatives or because they found it difficult to get used to local customs.
But that’s not an option for her at the moment, she says. “I understand the German culture, I speak the language.” The 30-year-old spent a few days with her parents in Ukraine over Easter. But the constant wailing of sirens, the fear and the uncertainty got to her.
Now the blonde Ukrainian is back in Berlin-Friedenau, again living in the guest room of Ulla’s spacious apartment in the old building, where a Syrian refugee used to stay. A Ukrainian lawyer from the neighborhood brought the retired headmistress and the accountant from Kyiv together in early April.
When she met the lawyer who is involved in helping Ukrainian refugees, Olha was living in an initial reception facility on the site of the former Karl Bonhoeffer Psychiatric Clinic in Berlin-Reinickendorf. With her language skills, the German studies graduate helped out as a translator in the facility, where those seeking protection usually only stay for a short time. “It was good, I was always busy, I could help,” she says. That helped her to suppress thoughts of the war at home.
But then residents of the accommodation stole a pillow and other items from their room. That’s why she was very happy in the end when the opportunity arose to move in with Ulla. For Ukrainian women who are in Germany with family or friends, it might be easier to live in such accommodation. As a woman alone, she didn’t feel so comfortable in the building where you couldn’t lock the room door.
No clear perspective – that torments
Her 74-year-old host says Olha is “a stroke of luck”. Since the Ukrainian speaks German very well, it is easy to communicate. The young woman is very independent. You have now also received a commitment for a paid internship, which should start on June 1st. Olha left her job as a public accountant and her rented apartment in a high-rise in Kyiv.
“At first I thought I’d only stay in Germany for a few days or weeks, but I know that all refugees think that way,” says the Ukrainian. After all, seven years ago she worked for an organization that looked after displaced people from the Donbass and refugees from Syria and Afghanistan. So she knows how agonizing it is not having a clear perspective.
Just before the war started, Olha sent packages from Kyiv containing some of her clothes to her parents, who live in western Ukraine, near the Belarusian border. “The war was already in the air – and I didn’t want to stand there like many of these people who told me that they only went out with a T-shirt and flip-flops,” she says.
Explosions appeared from the train window “like fireworks”
On February 23 – a few hours before the Russian bombing began – Olha, who does not want her family name published, boarded the night train to Kovel. In the early hours of the morning she saw the explosions from the train window. They seemed unreal to her, “like fireworks.” Her father came to Kovel by car to pick her up. At this point in the story, Olha begins to cry. She hasn’t touched the black tea, which is slowly getting cold in the cup in front of her. “I’m working on being calm,” says the young woman.
In their parents’ house they slept in the hallway for the first few nights. Because there are many lakes in the region, houses in this area don’t have basements to shelter in, Olha said. Her brother said she was a “panic,” someone who panicked quickly. He urged her to go to Berlin via Poland. “If we all die, then you have to stay,” he said to her.