Olena Nošovská is 24 years old. He comes from Ukraine, more precisely from a village near Kiev. After completing his master’s degree in chemistry, he is now doing his doctorate at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena. She came to Jena to study in the winter semester 2018/19. Part of her family now fled Ukraine and came to Jena.
What was it like for you when you learned about the war?
I was not prepared for war, not even in my thoughts. I am the only one in the family who lives in Germany, the rest are in Ukraine and I live in a village near Kyiv. The night before the attacks, I called my dad and we talked about trivial things – like fixing something on the washing machine. I also talked to my parents about the political situation in the country and I talked to them about why the reservists were called up and whether it affected my dad as well. But it wasn’t about the war.
The next morning, around 8:00, I read my dad’s message to call him. He told me on the phone that the bombing had started and that the war had started. But the most important thing for me was the information that everyone is fine and healthy.
But I should support her in bringing her 22 year old sister to Germany. My brother is still too young to travel alone and my parents were not ready to leave the country that day. They have everything there and they didn’t want to leave despite the war. For my family, the outbreak of war was completely unexpected.
It was very stressful for me. I was very nervous and restless.
what did you do then
First, I contacted a friend who came to Germany as a refugee from Syria. We studied together so I know him quite well. Although we never talked about his escape from Syria, I called him and asked how he managed to escape then. I asked him if the escape was organized by international organizations or if he set out on his own and what to consider. He said it would become increasingly difficult to escape in the coming days. The sooner my sister starts her journey, the better she can succeed. And it is very likely that no one would organize an escape inside Ukraine, first outside the country. My sister should go to the border alone.
I conveyed this to my family and explained to them that I can only take care of the trip outside of Ukraine.
Did your sister run away?
My mother, my sister and my little brother are yesterday (Wednesday, March 9, editor’s note) arrived in Jena. The rest of the family is still with Kiev.
After some of your family managed to escape: How are the refugees who arrived here doing? How can they be better supported?
People who arrive here have had traumatic experiences and a lot of stress. Although the attacks and fighting took place about 30 kilometers from my parents’ village, they could hear the explosions and sounds of war. It is also evident here. They react completely differently to sounds and sometimes startle when I knock on the door.
My family fled by car to Poland, stayed with my aunt for a short time, and then took a train to Jena via Prague. What was good for them and what surprised them was that even in Dresden the station announcements were in Ukrainian.
You have to understand that refugees are stressed. They have had a traumatic experience and are often abroad for the first time. Then hearing the mother tongue is extremely comforting and supportive. That is why translators are also very important.
My family was also pleasantly surprised by the great solidarity with the refugees. Although working with people who don’t speak the language is difficult, mutual support is great. All fellow passengers in overcrowded trains were also very willing to help.
There is room for improvement in the field of transport. Crowded and long trains are often separated at stations. If the announcements are not in Ukrainian or Russian, many do not know if they are sitting in the right part of the train and where their journey is going. This is where transport companies should invest in translations.
How does communication work with part of your family in Ukraine?
I am in regular contact with my father. There is an internet connection and we can make phone calls. I also ask him about my grandparents and other relatives and friends.
What is the humanitarian situation in your father’s neighborhood?
The most important stock is listed. There is water and electricity and food is still available. But I know other families who live further east in a country where it’s more complicated. It is also difficult to care for distant relatives in cities already occupied by the Russians, for example in Zaporizhia. The internet is not stable there either. That is why help from abroad is important. Even with enough money, it is often difficult to buy things due to the logistics hampered by war.
Do you know if aid transports arrive there from abroad?
I can only pass on what my contacts tell me. The Ukrainian army is very well equipped. My father supports the logistics of the Ukrainian army as a volunteer. There is a lack of protective equipment for the civilian population to assist with civil defense. They have weapons but no helmet.
However, incoming transports are well distributed in the country and there is a lot of support from abroad. Supporting hospitals is also important.
What do you think needs to happen politically?
There is talk of protecting the airspace over Ukraine. NATO should take over. I think it would be a useful action. This would protect Ukraine from heavy shelling and air attacks. This would ensure greater safety for the civilian population and fewer people would die. Although the Ukrainian military is already doing some of this, support in this regard would be desirable. Also, more equipment and technical support makes sense.
Do you have relatives or contacts in Russia?
Yes, we have relatives in Russia. They are distant relatives through my grandfather.
Do you think that the war also leads to divisions and conflicts within the family?
When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, there were many rifts in the family. Our relatives already became supporters of Russia at this time. Propaganda in Russia is very strong at the moment. Therefore, our relatives in Russia believe the propaganda rather than the words of my grandfather, their family.
To open their eyes and convince them of the truth is almost impossible in my opinion. But you should definitely try it and leave no stone unturned. It would be best to stop Putin. Then maybe you could stop the propaganda.
How did your life in Germany change when the war broke out?
In the first days it was a big shock, a lot of stress and anxiety. On the one hand, I didn’t want to read or hear the news, but on the other hand, you also want to know what’s going on. It’s an up and down mood, depending on what information you get. This back and forth is not good.
Of course, my work as a PhD student distracted me and calmed me down a bit, but at the same time you always think how you can help. Priorities have shifted a lot: work recedes, the weather doesn’t play a role. It is important to stand up for your family and countrymen. I also talk about it with my colleagues – they notice that I’m not behaving normally. They are very understanding and offer their support.
I also think it is important to set up information channels to inform everyone about the war and hopefully through education the war will end soon.
Did you set anything in particular?
At first, I didn’t even know that there were so many Ukrainians in Jena. We connected and informed each other where help was needed. This is how we divide the activities of helpers. We volunteered as translators when a busload of refugees arrived in Jena. I am currently translating a piece of paper for rapid test swabs as refugees are only quarantined when they arrive here. It must be tested first. With a translated information sheet, we can support the experts responsible for the tests.
I also consider the demonstrations and gatherings that take place in the city to be extremely important. It is important to get the attention of society to explain that this is a war against Putin and not a general discrimination against Russians. It is about stopping the dictatorship and ensuring the freedom of many people not only in Ukraine, but also in Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia.
How can the university or city further help?
The city and the university have already organized a lot of help and support and there is a lot of information. I was talking to my family about how it would be great if there was one place that all Ukrainians could turn to. Comparable to international office, only for Ukraine.
Refugee children are especially important to me. He does not speak German, so integration in German schools, kindergartens, etc. is difficult. A new language and a new country means additional stress for them. It would therefore be great if they had a meeting place where they could exchange ideas or learn together with other refugee children and their parents. Children should not feel like they are on holiday, but should continue to learn, be distracted and – very importantly – also play sports. Perhaps the city and the university could also think about the activities here.
Is there anything you would like more from Germany or your German environment?
That they continue as before. And don’t forget. But unfortunately, I am afraid that there will only be a wave with a strong resonance at the beginning and it will die down soon. This must not happen. There is a war and innocent people are killed every day. The war will not end by itself, we must help together. The willingness to help in Germany is very high and it should stay that way. Ukraine is very happy about it. Together we can persevere and fight to end war.
What lies ahead for you, your family and your compatriots? what are your hopes
Already now, and especially in the future, the Ukrainian language will be heard in many countries, as refugees expand. You will definitely know more about Ukraine and Russia, the differences in languages, geography and so on. War leaves traces in people’s minds.
Ukraine will live on when the war is over. The country has made it clear to its countrymen that peace is the ultimate goal. Countries like Poland, Latvia, Romania, Germany and many others welcomed and helped refugees with open arms. This also showed Ukraine who its friends are – Belarus and Russia are definitely not among them.
“Everything will be all right in the end,” said Oscar Wilde. “If it’s not good, it’s not over.” I tell myself this every day. There will be a happy ending and then the country will be rebuilt and developed. I think the war made people stronger, especially morally, even stronger than before.
The interview took place on March 10, 2022.
Photo: Jens Meyer / University of Jena