АвторAuthor: Oleksandr Nikitin | Translation: Roman Klochko
17 September 2022
Svitlana Sukhachova studied abroad before the war. During the holidays, which coincided with the beginning of the war, she came to her daughters in Odesa. On February 24, Svitlana and her children got to the border with Moldova. From there she planned to get to Germany, where her brother was waiting for her. Read in “Monologues of War” on how the family came across fraudsters in Moldova, how they got to Germany as well as on evacuation and adaptation abroad.
My name is Svitlana Sukhachova. I am 43 years old, I have two daughters. I am a sinologist by profession, but I did not work by specialty. Before the war, I was studying for another specialty – I wanted to be an illustrator of books and magazines. I had one semester of study left. I have studied in Cyprus and lived there for the last 8 years. But it was in Northern Cyprus, the one that is recognized only by Turkey. I was going to leave there as soon as I finished my studies because my girls had already been with their father for a year and a half in Ukraine, in Odesa. I came to them only to visit and, of course, it was not an option to live like that. So I planned to move to Odesa in the summer, after graduation. Just when the war started, I was in Odesa on my holidays. So, it’s good that everything coincided.
Of course, I heard all sorts of rumors and speculations about the possible invasion of Russia. I read that there was such a possibility. So I was glad that I would go to my daughters and be able to take them out of Ukraine if God forbid something started. But, like many ordinary people, I did not believe that this would happen. The beginning of the war, February 24, is impossible to forget. At 5 am we heard the first distant rumbles and explosions. My ex-husband woke me up and said that the war had started. I yelled at him and said that we should have taken the children earlier. He replied that no one could believe that the old man (Putin – ed.) would go crazy and do something like that.
I woke the children up and we started to equip the basement. My ex-husband rented half of the house, and the owners lived on the second floor. And we started thinking together about what to do. We followed the news and advice on social networks so we started to tape the windows. Of course, all this time I felt anxiety and worries. This manifested itself in the fact that I started to cook some food, to think about what else I needed to buy. It turned out that we had no cash. My daughter was the “richest” as she had 50 hryvnias. Someone went to the store, they said that the cards did not work.
We fussed around the house, bringing water and things down to the basement. The basement is really good, you could stay there for a long time. I think the owners of the house are also using it now. At the same time, my brother, who has been living in Germany for about 10 years, began to call and say: “Of course, I do not insist, but think about the ways of retreat, where you can go to get abroad.” He wrote and called me more and more often, so I started thinking about a possible departure. Perhaps I would not have dared to leave, but the younger child began to get nervous, crying every half an hour. I realized that there were no explosions, and if it starts, it will be very difficult for the child psychologically.
By the evening of February 24, we got to the border with Moldova. It was a difficult decision – to go or not to go? Nevertheless, my husband drove us to the border. We got there in the afternoon because he drove honestly and did not overtake anyone, although there were some “smart guys” on the road. Although, usually, the road to the border takes about 2 hours. There was a long queue of cars in front of the border so we decided to walk and my ex-husband returned to Odesa.
We seemed to have made some kind of trip plan, but it was all changed. While going to Moldova we were thinking about what to do there. At first, we planned to go to Chisinau and take plane tickets from there to Germany. But then it turned out that there were no more planes from Moldova. Then we thought to go to Romania, to the nearest airport. In Chisinau, my brother booked me an apartment via Booking.com. Also, we knew that there were many volunteers from Moldova who help to get to Chisinau. Initially, we wanted to take a bus that runs from the border to Chisinau for free and look for an apartment that my brother rented for us. But, everything did not turn out as we planned. We got on the bus, waited for about an hour, and realized that it was in vain. It turned out that this volunteer bus departed when it was full, but it was not filled, because most people were picked up by volunteers in cars right from the border gate. So, we also went there. A young neat man named Serhii stepped toward us. He said that he was a volunteer and could help us to get to Chisinau. Of course, it was nice, but somewhere the thought gnawed at me: what if he was not a volunteer? “I am a woman, I have two girls. Where will you take us, to Chisinau or not?” – for some reason I thought then. But then I looked at this man and somehow intuitively in a few seconds decided that he could be trusted and we got into his car. On the way, we talked and he asked where we were going to stay. I said that my brother had booked us accommodation. Serhiy said that we should call there. Since we did not have a SIM card, he offered to call from his room. He said just a couple of phrases into the phone, hung up, and said that we had fallen for scammers. He explained that the man heard the Moldovan language and said: “I am busy now, write on Viber”. Serhii was a realtor and said that professionals did not do that. I started reading reviews about this place and it really turned out that these were very dishonest people, maybe even scammers. Because people wrote that the housing was given in the wrong place, for the wrong money, and so on.
I asked: “What should we do now? We have no place to live!”. Serhiy said he would try to find something, but gave no guarantees. He said that they had a whole cohort of fellow realtors who rallied to provide free housing and transportation to refugees from Ukraine. And they also had clients who sympathized and are ready to give their apartments, which they provided to the realtor database for rent, to refugees for free for a few days. He wasn’t sure he could find anything now, in the middle of the night, but said he would make some calls. Again, the insidious thought of where he would take us crept in. He seemed like a decent man, but doubts still remained. But, he brought us to a new house. He said that it was an apartment that no one had rented yet because it had just been renovated. Serhii also called to bring us bedding and everything. About half an hour after that, people started coming one by one. Someone brought mattresses, others brought linen, and someone brought food. We stared open-mouthed because it was very nice. I asked why they help and what motivates them. Serhii told me: “You know, I’m shocked as well! I thought that Moldovans do nothing for free”.
Over the next few days, I observed that Moldovans really do everything from the bottom of their heart and with a desire to help, without expecting anything in return. We spent a few days in this apartment as we had to get by bus instead of a plane. In this matter, another volunteer took care of us: he brought hot meals, called, and asked what we needed. His relative owned a bus company that was engaged in international transportation. And he agreed to take us for free to Germany, to Karlsruhe, where my brother lives. It was to be in a few days, and before that, we lived in Chisinau. At that time, a lot of free services for Ukrainians appeared there, so we felt like “glamorous refugees”. Volunteers called us and told us which cafes offer free meals or which salons provide free services to refugees. The girl from that salon said that they wanted to help refugees as much as they could. It was nice because help and support were everywhere.
Then we got to Karlsruhe by bus. My brother met us there. We were very lucky in Germany. As for housing, we even had what to choose from. I came to my brother, we stayed there for a few days and went to Berlin, to my friend who has been living there for many years. She was planning to move to a house outside the city and sublet her Berlin apartment at a very good price and in an excellent neighborhood.
But when we were still in Karlsruhe, I wrote a letter on the website of Waldorf schools in Germany. The fact is that my girls went to a Waldorf school in Odesa. A teacher from there recommended this site, saying that they help refugees. An answer came when we were in Berlin. They said they could take the girls to school in Karlsruhe. It was a good opportunity that made us choose Karlsruhe. Also, while we were in Berlin, my brother called and said that his colleague was renting an apartment. My brother said that he would rent it, if not for us, then for someone else. But when we returned to Karlsruhe, we already knew that we would rent this apartment. This apartment suited us in all respects. We had no furniture but there were Facebook groups where I asked locals to let me know if they could share something. So we got furniture and many other things that were just brought to us. My brother also helped a little bit to buy other necessary things.
I got a job thanks to the help of my old German friend from my first student days. On February 24, he started writing to me, asking how he could help. I said that I would be in Karlsruhe, I was interested in work and wanted to do illustration. My friend replied he had a good friend in an international company that produces microphones. But, there was a question, does the microphone company need an illustrator? They replied to me and after that, I sent my resume and portfolio. Then I was invited for an interview, they said that everything was cool, let’s work. They just needed a book for the 75th anniversary of the company next year, and there were also other projects. So we signed a three-month contract for a half-time job. It was my wish because I couldn’t afford to work full-time. Now I have extended this contract for another three months. For me, it’s a dream job as I do what I love, and what’s more, I get paid for it. If the projects end and there is no work, I would not mind going to some intensive language courses for six months and adding knowledge of German to my development. I hope that next year my daughters will continue their studies at the Waldorf school. They finished the school year well, the eldest daughter is one of the best in her class. Even though they practically do not speak German. But, during this time, they have improved it a lot. Therefore, they like studying at this school very much. Although it is a paid school we are not obliged to pay tuition fees so far. Until the war is over, we plan to stay in Germany. If I didn’t fear for the safety of my daughters, I would have returned to Ukraine right now.
Before the war, I was in a kind of “gray zone” and was not very interested in politics. I am from the Dnipropetrovsk region and I spoke Russian all my life. At some point, I realized that I was uncomfortable speaking this language. I realized that my friend, with whom we had heated arguments about patriotism and nationalism in our student days, was right. She did what I should have done from the very beginning – she stayed in Ukraine. She works as a journalist in Kryvyi Rih and raised two educated Ukrainian-speaking children. That is, she made her contribution to the development of the country, and I, as it turned out, did not, because all this time I was uncertain. But now it is time to make up my mind.
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: Roman Klochko