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A Life in Exile: Ukrainian Refugees in Germany, One Year Later

  • February 18, 2023

Kateryna is a child of war, but she is no longer a child. “Ever since I left my country, I have frequently been told that I seem older than 16.”

And yet, she’s a teenager. She likes the song “Du” from the German singer Cro, and she likes dogs because they are friendly and kind to people. Her favorite color is blue. Her friends call her Katya.

Kateryna speaks calmly and restrained during the video interview, only rarely smiling. Her answers are often brief.

She fled from Kryvyi Rih, a city in southern Ukraine, to Dargow, a town in the northern German state of Schleswig Holstein. “Nice people,” she says of the Germans, “friendly,” she adds in German. She began going to school in Dargow, thinking she would stay in Germany, and says that she found chemistry and physics to be challenging. The bus to the nearest city ran every two hours – and not at all on the weekends.

In the hostel where she was staying, she met Ilia and Sofia, both refugees about her age. She would go swimming in a nearby lake with Sofia and sing songs around the campfire with Ilia. Kateryna even uploaded a video of them singing to Instagram. She had a nice time in Dargow, she says. The war robbed her of her youth, but that northern German town gave some of it back to her. It was difficult, she says, to leave her newfound friends.

But leave she did, moving with her mother Yuliia onward to England to join a family friend. He had room in his home in a town near Manchester, and a dog named Charly.

Kateryna gathered information about colleges in her vicinity and got a visa. She left for England mostly because of the language, she says, English being much easier than German for her, and she is now attending a college to prepare for university. No more physics, no more chemistry. “The main thing is getting a degree,” she says. “I’ll have to study a lot.” She has three seminars per day, and then has to do homework after that.

And in her free time? “On the weekends, I have time to go for walks.”

Sometimes, she feels lonely. “The rain really makes me sad” she says, adding that it rains too much for her in England. But she likes the clean air. In Kryvyi Rih, the puddles would sometimes turn red after rain because of the local iron mine.

Kateryna knows what it means to leave people and places behind. Her father Valeriy is still in Ukraine, waiting for the letter telling him he must head to the front. It could arrive any day. She calls him when he has enough electricity to charge his phone.

The war is constantly on her mind, with her as she goes about her daily life. But sometimes, she’s able to escape. Playing bingo with friends from the college. Running on the treadmill in the fitness studio. Taking walks with Charly, a cocker spaniel with a brown head and white-spotted fur. Sometimes, she says, Charly sits on the couch and gazes out the window, waiting for the bus that brings Kateryna back from college. When she gets home, he jumps around in excitement.

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