The Refugee Journey. How do Ukrainians live away from their homeland, and why do they most want to go home?

Valentina Kozakovskaya was in Kyiv when a full-scale war broke out in Ukraine. The woman decided to flee as soon as the first missiles hit the capital. February 24 will forever remain in her memory,“ Kozakovskaya said.

Ukrainiečių bendruomenę, ukrainiečiai, bendruomenės renginys<br>G.Bitvinsko nuotr.
Ukrainiečių bendruomenę, ukrainiečiai, bendruomenės renginys<br>G.Bitvinsko nuotr.
Daugiau nuotraukų (1)

Olga Bahareva-Grigorian

Dec 23, 2022, 8:26 AM, atnaujinta Dec 23, 2022, 8:27 AM

„I was in Kyiv. The first day of the war started unexpectedly. There was little time to think, weigh and make the right decisions. Everyone gave in to panic, and we, like most Ukrainians, grabbed our backpacks and ran. We were running in an unknown direction, scared, and wanted to hide somewhere. And on the first day, we realized there was nowhere to hide. Some roads were already damaged, and some bridges were bombed. Therefore on the first day, it was not possible to leave, we returned home. And already in a calmer state, we weighed everything, laid out unnecessary things and made a second attempt to escape. At that point, there was probably no thought of what would happen next. We lived for this very minute. With time, you start to think what will be next, and what will be next, says Valentina.

During the first days of the war, she left Ukraine with her daughters. There were huge queues of those wishing to leave the country at the border.

„It took us twenty-four hours to get to the Polish border in Volyn, there was a crossing point, and it was just opened for refugees. That was probably the worst thing that happened. At first, we walked 10 kilometres with the children to get only to this post, because for 10 kilometres there was only a line of cars. We had to go through that line and get in line to pass when the barrier opened. There were a lot of women there, not a single man. They were elderly, young mothers with babies, mothers with two or three children, with strollers. All without things because it was a pedestrian cordon. What you carry in your backpack, that's what you take. I was with my kids, standing in a cold field for 10 hours on wet ground. We had no toilets, no water, and no food. We were just standing there waiting for that barrier to open. And it was a strange feeling when it opened; the crowd just ran because they knew there was no point in return. You have to run straight ahead, or that barrier will close, and you'll stay in this country, and you won't get through. That's the scariest thing when you have to run; you don't know where, but the main thing is to step with one foot on Polish territory. And so when we passed through, we were already given plaids and tea to drink. There was already paperwork, but the view was horrible: crying children, crying mothers...grandmothers who were fainting. Polish friends picked me up on the other side and brought me to the Czech Republic. I lived in Prague for a month, and then my friends took me to Germany.

Valentina stayed with friends for four months. All that time, she was looking for an apartment to rent. The woman says the first time, it was tough for her to be away from home.

„For me, the first three months were a shock, so I did not delve into the problems of everyday life. I woke up every day thinking that today they would say that the war was over, and I would pack my things and go home. I lived with the thought that everything would be over; I had to wait a little longer. I didn't even want to buy new things, so I could pack them all in a backpack and leave, so there wouldn't be any unnecessary things. But when I realized, a month, two, three...The situation is not getting any better, and I do nothing. That's when I realized I needed to learn the language, applied for integration courses, and started looking for an apartment. And my friends were having a hard time supporting us. So I started to get out of the loneliness and indifference shell and started to do something“, – recalls Valentina.

Valentina Kozakovskaya never even thought she would end up in refugee status.

„I never thought that I would be a refugee, that I would be able to leave my world in Ukraine, what I was creating. It took a lot of my resources. And my husband and I made a world for ourselves and our children in which we were not just comfortable but in which we were happy. And when that world collapses, you don't just have an emptiness in your soul; you stop feeling yourself. I stopped feeling my significance. In my world in Ukraine, I knew my position and place and enjoyed life. Here at the moment, I lost that significance. I don't know who I am here or why I am here. The first phase I had was denial. The second phase was waiting for it to be over and to go home. Now came the third phase. Let's call it „Gotta move forward. But I have no goal, no end point, where I am going. So far, I'm just moving forward, so I don't stand still. But my status as a refugee makes me feel bad morally. How does the country treat me? The country treats me well; it helps me financially. But when it comes to refugee status on a spiritual level, I feel like a stranger here. And even if I learn the language here, adapt, and integrate, I will always feel a look on my back that I am a stranger here. And it's hard for me to cope with that. I think I am not a part of this country and am unlikely to feel that way. Everything here is still foreign to me. I want to go home. I am probably one of those people who are not ready to get used to it. When I lived in Ukraine, I was prepared to change and make it comfortable for me, my family, and the people around me. But in this situation, it is hard for me to change something. I need to get used to everything, and it is tough for me to accept it.

Valentina said that she devoted all her time to her family in Kyiv.

There is such a profession as 'mom'. I have the youngest child with a disability. She's ten years old, and her name is Eva. I went to the perinatal centre in January and gave birth at early term. At that time, a new law was passed in Ukraine: babies from the 22nd to the 24th week must be kept. Before that, such babies were considered to be aborted. She was born weighing 670 grams, was about the size of a newborn kitten, and fit in my palm. In total, we were in the NICU for six months. When we left the hospital, I devoted myself to my younger daughter, but it didn't stop developing. By education, I am an elementary school teacher. For many years I worked in schools and kindergartens. And I had my own kindergarten experience. I had my kindergarten, but with the birth of my youngest daughter, I had no time to work. There was only enough time to take care of my child. But at the same time, I was developing in different directions, starting from a photo school, where I graduated with honours. And fitness school internationally; that is, I have a diploma in fitness training. I also wanted to go into landscape design because I dreamed of buying my own house and doing everything with my own hands.

Valentina Kozakovskaya still dreams about her home in her native country. Unfortunately, we have to wait until the war is over,“ says the refugee.

„We already have land. There is hope that the war will end. Ukraine will rise from its knees, revive, and we will build a house. But I have fears. Echoes of war are a scary thing. I can't feel 100 percent safe knowing that another picnic could be lethal because our guys are good, they clear a lot of territories, but from the mines, they won't clear everything in a year or two. And, if so much time has passed since World War II, they still find shells. So it scares me – my safety and the safety of my children. I mean, on the one hand, I really want to go home. I'm delighted with the thought; I wake up with it. And on the other hand, I will not be completely safe there and fear for my children's lives and for my own, too, says Valentina.

The fact that Kyiv would be under shelling was a complete surprise to Valentina. As was how quickly many of her acquaintances would stop paying attention to the air raids.

„For some reason, I thought we were so protected that it wasn't impossible. And even if there were any creeps, they would be in vain. It won't go away. I read the news all the time. I have many friends in Ukraine, in Kyiv. And they have lived through this fear that I took with me; they have digested it there, they have swallowed it, they have come to terms with it, and what is happening now is much scarier than it was in the early days of the war, but for some reason, it does not scare them so much. Because there is such a human factor, we can get used to it... We cannot say that we can get used to the war, to the rocket attacks, but this is how the human psyche works; this is the body's defence reaction, otherwise, if a person is under stress, then all those who stay there, they will just go crazy, – says Valentina.

Now the Ukrainians who stayed in the country have another challenge: people periodically remain without light, water or heating.

„Now in the „chocolate“ those who have a stove, a well and a toilet on the outside. Because they have a much better situation than the Ukrainians who live in new apartment buildings, who have „smart houses“ on electricity and everything depends on electricity, – says Valentina Kozakovskaya. And she continues, „I have these families who group together and go to other families who have their own house. And they all live there by three families because they sat for four days in the multi-storey building without light or water. You can't go to the bathroom because the installations that flush the toilet are also on electricity. It's scary. The children are cold; the children want to eat. That's why I'm here because I feel sorry for my children. I try to convince myself that everything is fine because a happy child is a happy mother, but if a child sees a mother crying. Suppose a child feels like mom can snap at him sometimes, not because he's terrible, but because mom has a screwed-up psyche. That's what's hard to control. It all has to be channelled so that the child doesn't feel or feel it. Well, sometimes it turns out that I'm a hypocrite. And I can't lie. Working on myself it is challenging.

Valentina would like to open a private kindergarten here if I have to stay in Germany. But she says she needs to learn the language first.

„Right now, the main thing is the language barrier. For me, it's a barrier. Even with a big run, I can't climb it. I don't even know how long it takes to learn the language at a level where I can teach children pedagogically. Because in the kindergarten, there will most likely be German children, Poles, and Ukrainians, but one language for all – German. If I can arrange this kindergarten and run it as a system, I can, but if I say I will have to work there myself as a teacher, I don't have that level of German. I need about three years to get to the level that will allow me to do it. The dream is there... It's not all gone. And if I can't make it back home within a year, I'll move forward anyway. Then, of course, I thought this might be some of my business. I don't see myself as a dishwasher, not because I can't wash or clean dishes. It's just that I want to do something that gives me great pleasure.

But my biggest dream as a refugee is to return to Ukraine as soon as possible. To the place where my husband is, where everything is native. To where home is...

„I can't say when. I hope it will not be in ten years.

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