A convoy of refugees and a line of bags. How difficult it is for you not to have anything left of your country but a suitcase. This sight breaks my heart. As if the bag was a coffin carrying the soul of the homeland, the smell of its soil and ashes of memories.
Asharq Al-Awsat visited the central train station in Berlin, the German bosom, where refugees meet refugees…
On the Ukrainian trip, there are no death boats. Trains are a means of escape. The evacuees have fled the Russian missiles and bombs, but they don’t know how long the absence will be and what the days of exile will hide.
Most of the Ukrainian refugees prefer to stay in Berlin. But this is not possible because German authorities prefer to scatter them into different regions to ensure the availability of services and facilities.
Nothing but a suitcase
In a nearby hall, while waiting to go to the shelters, the arrivals spread out at tables and have food and drinks. They have nothing but a suitcase…
Sophie, 21, came from the city of Kherson on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine. At first, she did not believe that the war would break out and prolong. Now she says that she doubts the possibility of an imminent return, “because living under Russian occupation is impossible.”
She recounted how the bombs “did not target only military centers, but rained down in every direction, making life hell.”
No water, no electricity, and many fires broke out in the buildings. Food ran out and the streets became deserted.
Larina, Sophie’s companion at Kherson University and on the asylum trip, says that a return to Ukraine is inevitable, noting that the Ukrainians will not surrender, and are preparing themselves for a broad resistance to force the Russians to leave.
She seems to be holding on to a thread of hope, when she asserts that Ukrainian soldiers “are fighting bravely, but they do not have enough weapons.”
Tears, prayers and escape
Irina Kovalenko came to Berlin with her daughter, mother and aunt. She was in Kyiv at the start of the war. She thought that the nightmare would end soon. She moved to a village outside the capital to wait for the war to stop.
She spent eight days “crying, praying, screaming and fleeing to places she thought were safe.”
“We were terrified when we watched the destroyed buildings, burned houses and empty streets amid the sound of missiles and raids,” Irina told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Irina wipes her tears. She lost her “home and tranquility, and the beautiful and rich country.” She wants a school for her daughter and an education in Ukrainian. It scares her that the future is uncertain. She talks about the “horrors perpetrated by the Russian army” and says that she will not return until after its withdrawal.
I left the Ukrainian refugees with their aches and suitcases, and decided to visit, with my colleague Raghida Bahnam, the Sonnenallee (Sun Street), which has been dominated in recent years by a Syrian character. Sweets, falafel, shawarma, halal meat, molokhia, clothing stores and vegetable stands…
The Syrians go to this neighborhood for shopping. Ehab Sahari came from Idlib in a “sort of asylum.” He says: “The shop was Turkish, and it became ours, me and my brother.”
He continued: “I sympathize with the Ukrainians; we have tasted the bitterness of losing one’s country and seeing it destroyed. When we said that Russian air force destroyed our country, no one wanted to listen.”
Ehab said that some Syrians have found a stable job, while many are still waiting. The kids born here don’t speak Arabic at all.
“We escaped the war; what’s important is that war don’t follow us here because of Ukraine,” he remarked.
He continued: “Prices increased because of war in Ukraine. The demand for flour, oil and sugar surged”
“I sympathize with the Ukrainians; we have tasted the bitterness of losing your country and seeing it destroyed. When we said that Russian air force devastated our country, no one wanted to hear. My cousins were killed by the Russian raids, which also targeted schools and hospitals. Responsibility for what happened to Syria lies with Iran, Russia and Hezbollah.
“I am not thinking of returning, especially since I am from Idlib. The current regime is just a front for Russia and Iran. I hope the Ukrainians won’t have the same fate as ours.”
Ehab said he is grateful to the country that hosted them.
“They gave us what we could not get in our country.”
On the way back to the hotel, I saw young men sitting next to a Ukrainian flag. He does not want his name or photo published. The reason is simple. He is returning to his country after finding a safe place for his mother and sister. His father refused to leave. He said that he would not accept to abandon his land and would rather die there.
He is returning to participate in a resistance that is expected to be fierce and costly. He believes that the world is responsible for what happened to Ukraine because it did not act decisively when Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea in 2014.
He describes the Russian president as “the Stalin of this century,” who is “extremely dangerous” for his country, its neighbors, and the world. He talks about “painful blows” that the Ukrainian army has dealt the Russian army.
Night fell on Berlin, which is preoccupied not only with receiving refugees, but also with the new European landscape. Fear returned to the continent. Terrorism is no longer the problem. The source of fear is Russia, on which Germany relies for its gas imports.
As I entered my room, I heard the sounds of Arab melodies throughout the hotel. I went out and saw a bride in a white dress, surrounded by her groom and relatives. It’s a Syrian wedding, meters from the Brandenburg Gate…
In the first years of their arrival in the country of asylum, refugees struggle to preserve their heritage. Tradition becomes the last bridge that connects them to their homeland. But time changes everything. Tomorrow their children will go to school, learn another language and live a different way of life. This applies to the Syrians, and will later be true for the Ukrainians…