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“This was the second time I lost my home because of war”

My name is Svetlana. I was born in 1983 in the city of Donetsk in Ukraine. Together with my two kids, I arrived in Almere in March 2022 after two and a half-long days trip. This is my story:

Before the full-scale war of Russia against Ukraine, we happily lived in Kyiv. My husband didn’t come with us because is not allowed that men of military age to leave the country. He is an architect who restores buildings destroyed by the war.

The war took my home for the second time. It first happened in 2014, when Russia provoked the conflict in Donbas. At that moment I was already living in Kyiv, but all my relatives including my mother remained in Donetsk. Since then, I have never seen the house where I grew up. All my childhood memories are connected with this house which is located near a large metallurgical plant. I remember exactly that were 800 steps from the doorstep of my house to school. This is a road paved with stones from the Second World War. We use it with my girlfriends jumping from pebble to pebble imagining that we were walking through a swamp full of crocodiles. 

On weekends, my mother got up early to cook for my brother and me what we loved the most which are the apple pie and lazy cottage cheese dumplings. I now cook that with my children. My mother still lives in Donetsk and is too dangerous for her to try to leave.  And so, because of the war, I was separated from the two closest people - my husband and mother. And I lost two beloved houses - in Kyiv of my family and in Donetsk - my childhood. The only thing that makes me happy is that my beloved children - an 8-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter - are in safety now. This is the most important thing. 

It was no accident that we fled the war to the Netherlands. Our close relative lives in Almere and we have been here before. We fell in love with this beautiful city. Unfortunately, this time the trip was not joyful. We got out of Kyiv on an evacuation train, in which there were a lot of people. It was impossible to walk on the wagon spending 10 long hours. On the border of Ukraine and Poland, we rested for half a day leaving on a bus to Krakow. Because of the huge queues at the border, we spent another 12 hours in it. That evening we flew to Eindhoven, where we were met by relatives. 

The Netherlands provided us with temporary protection and material support. It is a small country with a huge heart. We are now living with a host family in Almere Buiten. These are wonderful and incredible people here. The only difficulties are the language and also the people are very quiet. Ukrainians are more expressive. We are noisy, we speak loudly and quickly. 

My eldest son goes to the “Taalschool”  where he is learning Dutch. He is happy. The school system in the Netherlands is completely different from the Ukrainian. There is no homework in elementary school, very democratic teachers, and interesting lessons. My youngest daughter will also go to school in the fall and now goes to pre-kindergarten (peuterspeelzaal). This is a wonderful place that she likes, has friends and a lot of Dutch words. Now my children are teaching me Dutch. 
In the Netherlands, as in Ukraine, people speak two lang

uages. Almost everyone here speaks English and it helps me a lot. In Ukraine, apart from our native language, we know Russian well.
The biggest shock for me was that the children here in the cold and wind can walk in T-shirts and light shoes. We are used to dressing children warmly. It is always windy in Almere and I feel that I have to cover my children even in summer, but they, looking at Dutch children, no longer agree. And to my surprise, they get sick here much less often than at home. 
My favorite thing about Almere is the bike paths. I have always loved cycling, which is more difficult to do in Ukraine. I feel here like cycling in heaven! Our host family gave us bikes and at first, we rode them all day long. Every day we drive 7 kilometers one way to school now. As I cycle through Almere, I am struck by the incredible variety of people around me. It seems that in the Netherlands there are representatives of all nationalities and races. The Dutch know the values of life. They are ready to support anyone who needs protection. And it's priceless, and I'm grateful to you for it.

Once a week I hold free classes for Ukrainian children, where we make crafts and read Ukrainian books. I want to expand this project to help single mothers with children like me by providing them with child care while they learn the Dutch language. I hope in that way to find work or learn a new specialty. I also plan to hold a charity dinner for the residents of Almere who help Ukrainians as many other ideas, but they all come down to the fact that I do not know English well and I do not know Dutch at all. Therefore, my immediate goal is to learn languages. We do not have any plans for a longer period. I don’t want to be without my beloved husband in this beautiful city. I hope he can come to us, or we can return home when the war is over.

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Photos, Interview and Text: Lyla Carrillo Quan - van der Kaaden
Text Revision: Babette Rondón
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