“I was born in independent Ukraine and grew up here. I have my citizenship and my passport. I have my country.”
For most people, the word refugee brings thoughts of war, economic hardship, and a search for rescue in another country. But in reality, every refugee has their own story.
Iryna Simonenko, 17, moved to Lviv in May, shortly after her native Crimea was annexed from Ukraine by Russia. She moved not because of war – the peninsula was taken by Russia without a single shot being fired, and not because of financial struggles either. But she moved because suddenly her identity was compromised. All because Iryna feels herself Ukrainian, even though her parents don’t.
“I just packed my stuff and left. I told my parents later.” But she didn’t move to another country. Well, at least not to an entirely different country. She relocated from the South-East to the West of Ukraine, to the largest city in the West, called Lviv.
Her move wasn’t a piece of cake though. Shortly after arriving to the new city, Iryna got her documents stolen. The documents were needed for a university application. But as a blessing in disguise, local friends helped her to find a place to live, with one of many families that made a decision to help those who had to relocate from the East. Friends also helped to find a job in one of Lviv’s famous cafes, where she now works every day.
Iryna says she misses the sea. However, she is fascinated by Lviv’s beauty too. It has even inspired her to resume practicing her old passion – playing a piano. But outside of work she has little time, which she uses to prepare for university enrolment, in order to study history. She is also practising speaking Ukrainian. Although, she already speaks it fluently, her next goal is to start thinking in Ukrainian.
In Iryna’s story, the word refugee brings a different meaning, connected to values that are strong enough to force you to leave everything familiar behind at the age of 17. Interestingly, before this move, her first trip beyond native Crimea she didn’t make until the age of 16. A year later, she left her home for good. And it seem like she found her new home 1000 km away.
However, for some the search for a new home has just started.
Arina Radionova, from Donetsk. Being in her twenties, she had to leave her hometown, now in military conflict. Having already studied away from Donetsk, and lived in 4 different cities before, last year she finally decided to come back, in order to develop a civil society in her home city. Only, to be forced to leave again less than a year later.
During that brief period in Donetsk, she created an educational program for children focused around media cultures, which became part of her job in the Art House of Donetsk. She encouraged children to ask questions about everything, and not to accept old and outdated beliefs. No surprise, that created conflicts when kids with new knowledge were coming back to their schools, stuck in the old Soviet era. Unfortunately, Arina was forced to leave the House of Arts. She was “too democratic” for the place and time.
After the beginning of heavy fights in Donetsk, Arina has been moving from city to city, working on cultural projects and writing articles, meeting new people around Ukraine, and I sense, looking for a new home. We met with Arina in Lviv, where she came for a film festival, and to meet old friends. I asked her how come after so much travelling, she still has energy and even gets inspired:
– “I get inspired by people,” she answered.
– “And how do you relax?”
– “I can relax only when I am at home.”
– “So where is your home now?”
– “Right now I don’t have a home.”
– “Well, do you at least have some leisure time?”
– “My job is my leisure time. As my father puts it – Leisure is [the] ability to juggle jobs.”
– “What do you miss back in Donetsk?”
– “I miss stability.”
Arina is inspiring, but I can feel the struggle she is going through. During our conversation our talk went a little bit further, and she revealed that her drive in life is to help other people. That’s an example of when meaning gives you strength to go through discomfort and hardship. Fingers crossed, Arina’s meaning and strength will soon help her to find her home again.
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