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  • Українці розповідають про пережите під час війни з росією

    Ukrainians talk about their experiences during the war with russia

    Khrystyna Kovalevska

    Khrystyna Kovalevska: “My boyfriend called me and even shouted at me, “You shall leave! You must stay safe!”

    Ukrainians abroad

    АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation:

    8 May 2022

    Khrystyna Kovalevska is a student from Kropyvnytskyi majoring in journalism at Volodymyr Vynnychenko Central Ukrainian State Pedagogical University. Before the war, she worked and interned at a local online news portal, Grechka, where she is planning on working after she comes back to Ukraine. She also was a catwalk coach at the Mix Models agency. Hrystyna is interested in modeling. Before the war, she used to work as a model not only in Kropyvnytskyi but in many other countries as well.

    Khrystyna is keen on various training courses and has volunteer work experience. The war made her leave Ukraine. First Khrystyna went to Poland and then traveled to Germany, France, and Spain. Now she is getting ready to go to the UK under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

    On the evening of February 23, I was worried for some reason and wrote to my boyfriend that something would go wrong. I was to go to Uzhhorod for an internship at an online publication. Somehow, I had this apprehension that I won’t be going there. I felt some strange emotions. On February 24, I was woken up at 7 a.m. by a call from my parents, who said, “Don’t go out because the war has started.” I was instantly scrolling through the websites of RBC Ukraine and Ukrayinska Pravda, and it was—awful. I saw the photos after the explosions and messaged my friend from Kharkiv just to ask her how she and her fellow residents were feeling. My first emotions were fear and despair. But I knew it was vital to maintain composure as the only way to protect our country.

    “You shall leave! You must stay safe!” 

    Because of martial law in Ukraine, my friend and her mother came to us on March 5. First, they wanted to wait for a week or so and then go back to Kharkiv. My boyfriend insisted we leave the country as soon as possible. The future was dim.

    “You shall leave! You must be safe!” my boyfriend told me on the phone. He was shouting, actually, because we didn’t want to leave.

    My mother, my boyfriend, and I held a council and agreed that we should leave for Poland. On March 7, the decision was made to take off the following day. 

    “We just went where the road took us”

    First we were to go to Poland, where my relatives live. They were to help us settle in a hotel for refugees. We were planning to find jobs there or else go to Germany. We had contacts there too. But all our plans changed while we were on the road. Now we are in Spain. When we came to Europe, we didn’t know what would come next. We just went where the road took us.

    At 10 a.m. on March 8, we arrived at the Kryvyi Rih train station. There was a train going from there to Poland to the city of Helm. We found places in sleeping cars with compartments for four. We did not pay for the tickets: it was an evacuation train. There were six of us in a compartment. My friend and I shared an upper berth.

    It took us a day and a half to get to Poland. The border crossing took eight hours: they needed to check all the people in 19 cars. They put exit stamps in our passports, just like they do when you’re traveling somewhere. But we didn’t come to Helm as there was no more room there. We were taken to Olkusz.

    There, volunteers met us, fed us, and gave us some clothes. Then we were to sign an arrival-to-Poland document and decide whether we wanted to stay in the country. Even though we still didn’t know what to expect, we signed it.

    “We didn’t know what we had in store—we just boarded the train and went”

    We went to my relatives, to the city of Legnica. That was where we were supposed to stay. Unfortunately, a friend of mine told me the city was no longer allowed to accommodate Ukrainians. Poland does not pay any allowance for refugees, so keeping us is just pointless for them. So we went to my boyfriend’s relatives in the city of Skwierzyna. We waited there for two days, and then my friend Nastya and I decided to go to Berlin. When we were already on the road, in Frankfurt an der Oder, our conductor—a Ukrainian lady—told everyone that we should go farther—say, to Hanover. Unfortunately, Berlin was already full too. So I immediately decided to travel farther. We didn’t know what we had in store—we just boarded the train and went. Still, we hadn’t faced any serious challenges by then, thanks to the many volunteers who had helped us.

    “I am a keen traveler, so I’m used to anything”

    I used to work in Germany under a scheme for students, so I know a little about the country. Besides, I know a girl there who promised us to help with jobs. We could have stayed in the city where she lives and looked for work there. Our route allowed us to go to Augsburg and work there. But we still decided to go to Hanover. When we arrived, we went to a refugee center. The conditions were great there too: we were given humanitarian aid, food, water, and accommodation.

    We wanted to stay in Germany under Section 24, which covers the refugee and temporary protected statuses. If I’m not mistaken, Germany would pay a monthly allowance of €357 per person and provide free accommodation.

    But then we decided to go even farther—to Spain, where I am staying now. In Hanover, we were living downtown, with an amazing German family. They were volunteers too. They shared food with us, showed us the city, and urged us to come back to Hanover in case anything didn’t work out here. When they learned I had worked as a journalist, they even offered me a job. But I needed to brush up on my German first. I could have worked in English because I speak it well, but not in German. For some reason, we still didn’t want to stay and decided to go on.

    Our stay in Germany was great, and I didn’t require any acclimatization or anything. I am a keen traveler, so I’m used to anything. The only fly in the ointment was that my friend Nastya caught Covid-19. Because of that, we were moved to a refugee hotel, where we stayed for a week free of charge. After re-testing, we were allowed to leave. So we went to Spain through France.

    Through Paris to Spain

    Europe has made everything free for Ukrainians, so we traveled quite easily and didn’t really worry. Every train station has volunteers welcoming passengers from Ukraine. Let’s say if you travel around Germany, there’s this scheme called Help Ukraine: volunteers buy a ticket to other countries for you, and you travel there for free.

    We arrived in Paris, where we were met by the Red Cross, though they were less welcoming than the volunteers in Poland and Germany. We were given free tickets that allowed us to take any public transport for free and shown where we could stay at a refugee center. Overall, the place was very cozy. There were lots of people, a playground for kids, and humanitarian aid. 

    Then we decided to take a walk in France’s capital. I had developed a dislike for Paris before: it is dirty. I decided to show it to my friend because she had never been abroad before. She wanted to go for a little walk, especially after the distress she lived through in Kharkiv, because she was there right when the city was being shelled and bombed.

    A warm welcome by Spain

    From Paris, we took a train for Ukrainian refugees that traveled to Barcelona. There we were met by the Red Cross too and went straight to an office where we were registered in three hours and provided accommodation.

    Barcelona and the towns around it were full, so we were taken to the border with Andorra. It was a small town reminiscent of the Carpathians. We were living in a hotel with three daily meals included. Everything was great there. We needed to go back to Barcelona or Madrid to apply for a visa. We found people that sheltered us and gave us an entire apartment with all the amenities in Barcelona.

    We now have our own home. These people invite us for walks, lunches, and dinners every day. They care about us as if we were family. We are safe here, and I understand it.

    “It’s the least we can do for Ukrainians, but our country is doing its best to help you in any way it can,” the Spaniards say.

    Homes for Ukraine 

    When we were in Germany, I found a scheme called Homes for Ukraine, which was organized by the UK for Ukrainian refugees.

    Here’s how this scheme works:

    – Ukrainians need to find sponsors that will be able to shelter us and provide accommodation for us for at least six months

    – If we find such people willing to shelter us free of charge, the UK will issue us free six-month visas that can be extended for up to three years

    – Ukrainians staying in the UK under the scheme will be able to study, work, and access free health care services and benefits. The benefits paid under the sponsorship scheme amount to £350 and will cover the cost of utilities. That is, this allowance will be a sort of assistance for the family that shelters us. Besides, Ukrainians will get an additional allowance of up to £300.

    I learned about this scheme and decided to apply. I have an international Ukrainian passport, and my friend has a Ukrainian ID card. But Ukrainians with old-standard passport books or expired international passports can apply for sponsorship as well. It is of no consequence now. I applied online together with our sponsors. They filled out both their application and mine. We found an elderly couple living not far from London (about an hour by train) in a small beautiful town. We will be living there in a 16th-century dwelling. The couple is very nice, cheerful, happy… They are eager to help people. They organized everything for us, filled out all the forms, and helped us find jobs. 

    My documents were filled out online, and I have a valid international passport, so I don’t need to go to a visa center to get the necessary documents for entry to the UK. I applied and will now be waiting for a reply, but my friend Nastya has only an internal Ukrainian ID card. She applied as well, but she had to go to any Europe-based visa center and submit her biometric data: fingerprints, signature, and eye contact. We applied for Nastya’s visa in Madrid and are now waiting until it’s ready.

    Advice for refugees

    It is hard being a refugee. When you’re alone, it’s easy, but when you have family or even pets to boot, that’s when it gets really difficult. When I was leaving Ukraine, my train was packed with kids, elderly people, and pets. Everyone was crying. It was very hard mentally, emotionally, and even physically.

    Refugees are accommodated at exhibition centers, gyms, schools, you name it. But hosts try to make those places feel at least a little bit like home: there are cafeterias, food, clothing, and care. There is everything necessary to help people feel good there.

    I find all of this easy because I have traveled a lot, but there are people with kids and pets who just don’t know where they should go and what they should do. There are volunteers and all kinds of organizations that will help you. Take the Red Cross for instance. These are our fellow Ukrainians helping people abroad. Isn’t that great! For those seeking shelter, I would recommend looking for group chats on Telegram where Ukrainians help each other out. People share information on where to go once you arrive at a train station. But there will be lots of volunteers at train stations too, and they will answer all your questions. Don’t worry: you will have a place to stay. Everyone is cared for. You will be provided with humanitarian aid, at least with the bare necessities like pharmaceuticals and personal care products or food. Just don’t get disheartened and remember that all will be well.

    Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
    Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.

    Why is it important to share this story?
    If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.

    АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation:

    Ukrainians abroad

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