АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Nadiia Shovkoplias
13 June 2022
Liliia Volovelska lived and worked in Odessa before the war. On the night of February 25, together with her husband and friends, she crossed the border with Moldova on foot. The woman is now in Spain, living in Valencia.
I work as a brand designer, I have my own studio. All the staff works remotely and is based in Ukraine. For 8 years I have been designing independently and recently created a studio in order to work in complex and help Ukrainian businesses to develop. All my clients were mainly from Ukraine, so there was a crisis at the beginning of the war, because there were no orders at all.
Before the war I was a pretty apolitical person, I didn’t care about politics. My husband was actively interested in it and always made his assumptions about different situations. Many of my friends asked, “Aren’t you afraid?”, “Do you think there will be a war?” I answered that it is unlikely to happen, because I couldn’t imagine how it’s possible in the 21st century? But on February 23, the day before the war, I made a post, which was very logical – it was as if I knew that the war would start tomorrow. In the evening we went to bed and I started crying because I got really sad. There was a feeling that now the page of our life in Odesa, where we lived for three years, was about to close. It seemed that now everything would end and there would be a new level, something different and unexplored. It made me sad, because those three years in Odesa were wonderful.
“On February 24, I woke up at 9 a.m. My husband woke me up and calmly told me that the war had started. He woke up at 4 or 5 a.m., when the first shelling began. He was reading the news, wondering what to do”.
He said we had to decide what to do next – leave or stay home? We lived in the center of Odesa, not far from Derybasivska Street. At that time, that place seemed to be dangerous. So we had to make our first decision.
While we were thinking about what to do next, we packed two backpacks with essentials, equipment, and documents. My husband immediately went to buy food; we got some cash and began to monitor the situation. We were checking if it was possible for the men to leave the country. If my husband wasn’t able to leave, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere, either. We would’ve stayed together. My parents are from the Cherkasy region. They called and invited us to stay at their house. There were already too many relatives living there, there wasn’t much space, so we realized it was definitely not an option. Then our friends came over, we sat down to dinner, and we monitored the situation on the border to see if they would let us cross it. At that time there was no presidential decree regarding the mobilization of men yet. As it turned out, the men weren’t forbidden from crossing the border. Our friend texted us from the border, saying that men were still being allowed to leave. So we just packed a small suitcase with our essentials. We took a cab almost halfway to the border with Moldova. It was very cold at night and we walked for three hours, because there was a 25-kilometer line of cars. The cab driver was only able to get us to that line, and then we walked on foot with our backpacks and suitcases. We were walking to nowhere, not knowing if our guys would be allowed to go or not. On February 25, Zelensky’s decree came into force. We arrived at about midnight. We spent a long time at the border, and the officers didn’t let us into the border guard zone. As it turned out, the decree was enforced only from 7a.m., so we managed to pass through the Moldova border at night.
We didn’t understand what was waiting for us next. We booked an apartment on Booking, while walking to the border. They canceled it and changed the rent price from $350 to $1,000, so we couldn’t rent it anymore. Moldovan volunteers met us and offered a free ride on a warm comfortable bus to the center of Chisinau. We were very happy and surprised, because we didn’t expect any help from the Moldovans. It was nice and unexpected. We slept on the bus for a few hours and reached our destination, where volunteers met us in their cars. We were taken to the expo center organized for refugees by the Chisinau mayor’s office. They gave everyone a room made of plastic boxes with a bed, a nightstand, and a chair. Volunteers also brought food, clothes, and basic necessities. We stayed at the center for about three days.
My husband is a psychotherapist. One day we decided to do a broadcast where I promoted bloggers. We got a lot of people together. Half an hour before, we were asked to leave the expo center to fumigate the territory, because cockroaches appeared there. So we were panicking and looking for WI-FI, as the expo center was in a not very crowded area. By chance, I met a woman who suggested having the whole thing done at her house. She said: “Take your things, stay with my husband and me for a few days”. When we were driving to her place, it turned out that she was the Chisinau Vice-Mayor who had organized the work of the expo center. Her husband turned out to be a graphic designer; in fact, my colleague. He has his own printing house in Chisinau. Those people were like foster parents to us. They also took our friends, and we stayed with them for a few days. They also helped us find a house that one of their relatives gave us for a month. This month we lived for free in the suburbs of Chisinau, paying only for utilities.
We didn’t know when all of this would be over, should we go somewhere else or stay in Moldova. If the war was over, we would go back to Odesa right away. However, expectations that the war would end soon were not fulfilled. We wanted to try living in Valencia, Spain, for a long time. This city is very similar to Odesa and its atmosphere. So we decided that perhaps now was the best time.
I booked vouchers on the Airbnb website, which were distributed for free at the beginning of the war as part of the promotion. We received two, amounting to 1,400 euros, which we could use for renting a place. We used them in Valencia, because it was hard to find hosts. Especially since there are no social benefits in Spain. They only help when you go and ask very persistently proving that you really have nothing and need help. I would even say Moldova helps more than they.
Now we have been living in Spain for about a month. Barely found an apartment for rent. You can rent a house here only if you have a job contract, and we are now working remotely for the Ukrainian economy. Among the 50 options, only one landlord didn’t demand a contract, just told us to pay 6 months rent. We really like it in Valencia; we don’t even feel like we’re not in Odesa, because there are so many Ukrainians here. You can often hear Ukrainian language everywhere.
Also, I created a women’s club. Now it has about 60 Ukrainian women in it. We meet every two weeks, support each other, communicate on different topics concerning business, adaptation, and development in Spain. All this time I was working a lot, because all my clients from Ukraine have disappeared. That’s why I started working remotely with Moldovan entrepreneurs, as well as Ukrainians who are in Spain. During that time I gave about 60 free consultations for Ukrainian business representatives concerning branding, development, and re-adaptation. Mostly from a visual point of view, because I’m a designer. Besides, I’m studying foreign languages, because it’s difficult in Spain without knowing it. Spanish people don’t really know English, except for the younger generation.
We plan to live in Spain for a year. That’s the time the country gives us asylum for. We will work, do our job, build our business, because we need to keep both feet on the ground. Many of my acquaintances go back and forth between European countries. I don’t see any point in it, because it really messes things up. We live by the sea, in a quiet little neighborhood. We do sports, we support Ukrainians and Ukrainian economy. There are no problems with adaptation too, as I’ve built my own comfort zone.
Psychologically, the war had a hyper-positive effect on me, because I felt more power inside of me, became more mature and responsible. I now have a lot of inner strength to help others. I feel this strength and feeling of unity with Ukrainians inside of me. I began to speak and sing songs in Ukrainian again. I feel a psychological boost, because I want to develop myself and support everyone around me, which I do now. Today, as I did before the war, I value freedom, kindness, honesty, and support – all good human qualities.
Ukraine will be so strong after the victory! This struggle between good and evil will surely end with the victory of the good. Ukraine will be a very cool country, the center of the Slavic world, the true heir of Kyivan Rus’. The war united Ukrainians, showed us what is valuable and worth paying attention to. It made us more politically active and responsible. Ukraine’s victory at Eurovision is a proof of our country being strong, cool, stylish, and modern! After the war is over, there will be a lot of investment in Ukraine, Ukrainians will return home and rebuild the country. Ukrainians now living abroad will adopt European habits, such as waste sorting, obeying traffic rules, keeping cities clean, and so on. They will want to reproduce these habits in Ukraine. Many people will become even more European than they were before. It will have a positive effect on Ukraine, because these people will want to improve their country. In the same way we plan to be in Ukraine and with Ukraine in the future.
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: Nadiia Shovkoplias