Participants: Mariia Shymanska (M.S.), Nicoleta Mușat (N.M.)
Location & date: FITT Timișoara, Romania / August 2022
M.S.: I was born in Kyiv, in 1979. I was born in the Soviet Union. At the time Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. That’s the main reason I speak Russian, everyone spoke Russian at the time. I mean, I speak Ukrainian very well. I actually speak three languages fluently. I can’t say English is my native tongue, but I can speak it very well. There is nothing important in my childhood except Chernobyl, because I was 5 years old when the explosion happened, and it was really scary. We lived in Kyiv, and I remember the evacuation. I was 5 years old. Of course, now I look at my memories as an adult and understand what my mom was feeling then. But at the time, as a child, I just knew something bad had happened. Some explosion, some radiation, and we had to go. I went to the Sumska region with my mother’s friend, and we stayed there for one or two months, I don’t remember.
And then I stayed with my grandma. She lived in Korosten, which is not that far from Chernobyl. I don’t remember the region exactly. It’s Polissya, but it’s not far from Chernobyl, maybe 200 or 300 kilometres, I have to check. And my grandma said: “Well, bring her to me and she will stay here.” I remember that summer, because there were usually a lot of kids when I went to visit my grandma. Korosten is a small city; not a village, but a city with small houses. I remember there were usually a lot of kids there during the summer. But that summer there was only me and a couple of other kids, because everyone else was elsewhere. After that… Of course, I knew about the explosion, we talked about it. I was lucky that I didn’t feel the radiation. I did have some minor health problems when I was a teenager, and we thought they came from Chernobyl, but in the end, it turned out they didn’t. Now I understand I was lucky not to be affected by the radiation.
I graduated from school in Kyiv, and I didn’t have any idea who I wanted to be. I remember when I was 12, I told my mom I wanted to be a flight attendant. (laughs). And she told me: “What? What kind of a job is that? You will have to travel a lot, it won’t be easy, you know, it will be difficult, because you won’t be traveling, you will be working, only on planes. You have to think about it.” Then when I graduated from school my mom said that… I mean, I knew I wasn’t very good at math, because my teacher told me that I was crap at it. And mom said: “You need to go to a university where they teach humanities.” I was very good at languages, literature, biology, history, everything related to humanities. I decided to listen to her when she said: “Maybe you would like to be a lawyer, because you won’t need maths or physics to do it.”
And I thought: “Yeah, why not?” But the first time I applied, I failed the exam and didn’t get in, so there was the question of what I was going to do next. I graduated highschool. I didn’t get into university. My mother was working for a company that was doing enterprise audits. And she said: “I can speak to the director, if you like, and get you a job as a secretary. You might get some skills, earn some money. And maybe next year you will get into university.” This was actually a very good experience, because I was 16 years old, I was fresh. I didn’t know anything. I worked as a secretary, and I was really good at it.
The next year I got into university and began studying law. And again, I was actually quite good at it because studying was easy for me. When I graduated from university, there was again the question of what I should do after. Sometimes I watch the students from the current generation or the generation before, and I see that they have much more opportunities than I had. When I was in university, I couldn’t work as a lawyer because I was studying. After I graduated, I applied to a couple of companies, and they didn’t accept me because I had no experience. And so I found myself in this strange situation where I had an education, but I couldn’t find work.
After graduation, a friend I had met at a ski resort said to me: “Listen, there is a project, we can go to London to study and work, like <work&travel>. It’s not the same as in the United States, but something similar. You study in a school, and you pay for it by working as a student around 20 hours per week, which is good.” I was so excited about this opportunity. I told my mom that I wanted to go. She said: “Okay, I can even give you some money to start with.” So my friend and I applied for a visa for Great Britain but, for some reason, I got it, and she didn’t.
I found a job in a pub, then in a French restaurant. I was studying English and working. For me, it was the perfect experience, because at the time, I was 22 and back home I lived with my parents and didn’t work, so I was depending on them. Here I was suddenly alone, I had to pay rent, I had to look for a job, I had to do everything. Now I look at my children and I think this kind of experience would be good for them, because your mind has something to focus on. This is a very good experience in life.
In the end, I learned English very well. Before London, I had a good basic level, but I couldn’t speak. In London, I worked with people from all over the world and the environment pushed me to speak English. In the French restaurant, there were also people from Great Britain and from other countries, and I gained experience not being dependent on my parents.
After my visa expired, I went back to Kyiv, and everyone asked me: “Why didn’t you stay there? How come you couldn’t find a way to stay there?” But I didn’t understand these people. I said: “Okay, you are looking at London from the point of view of a tourist.” As a tourist I adore London. I know the place well, I will gladly go back. But when you live there, it’s a different story. You don’t have to mistake tourism for immigration. The cost of living is very high, public transportation is very expensive. They don’t have central heating in winter, so it was extremely cold in the flats I lived in. I remember there were only five or seven degrees Celsius in my room in the morning. So you have to sleep in warm fleece pyjamas with socks on because it’s so cold. I’m sure there are some rich houses with heating, but in general, it’s not nice. And the winters there are not as cold as the ones in Ukraine, but they have very high levels of humidity.
So I came back. Again, there was the question of what I should do next, so I started to look for a job. I worked in a couple of companies. I had a good experience with some, not so good with others. And there was one company that didn’t pay me at all. Then I found a job as a lawyer. They paid me very little, but I worked there for the experience. I decided I should do something so I wouldn’t forget to speak English. Walking down the street where I had had lunch, not far from my office, I saw a job poster that said: “We are looking for English teachers for English classes.” I decided to apply. I mean, I didn’t have an education as a teacher, but I told them I had lived in London, and I knew English “from the inside”. They gave me a couple of students to practice with.
Then I found another job as an English teacher. And it so happened that by working full time at the office I earned $100 per month, while two or three hours in the evenings teaching English got me $150. And I thought: “What should I do?” Maybe I didn’t need that job as a lawyer because I didn’t really get me any meaningful experience and it was a hard job. I decided to talk to the courses manager and tell her I could work full time. She told me it was great, because the other teachers were resigning. That’s how I started working as an English teacher. I had students and I was very successful, I taught over 60 people. People were coming for individual sessions, but I also I taught groups.
N.M.: Adults? Kids?
M.S.: No kids. Adults and teenagers, 15-18 years old. And then my university… Well, we sometimes joke that Kyiv is a big village because everyone is connected to everyone, everyone knows someone who knows someone they already know, despite the fact that it’s city with a population of 3 million. Somehow, a friend who worked at the university called me and said: “I heard you are teaching English?” And I said: “Yeah. Can you imagine?” We had both graduated law school. And I said: “Are you working for the university?” And she said: “Yeah, they offered me a good job. Would you like to work with us as a Professor of English?”
I said: “Yes, okay.” So I started work as a Professor of English. The main motivation for me was that I was not only teaching English, but by that time, they had also introduced seminars of law practice in English. I had to put together practice lessons for the students. In the end, it was great practice for me as well, because I also learned a lot of new words, a lot of new phrases related to my profession.
This lasted for almost three years. Then I started getting tired of it, because I was doing the same job all the time and I’m an active person. I like challenges and having interesting things to do. I realized that while I was working, I was only working. I liked my job, but I didn’t make as much as I could have. And there was a financial point I couldn’t get past, so I thought maybe I could do something else. I was always looking around to see who was doing what, and one of my friends was a trainer. She was training people to sell, like a sales team. She was teaching them psychology, team building etc. I watched her and I said: “I would like to do that too because I have worked in a pub and in a restaurant, I know about sales and how to sell.” And she said: “No, if you want to train people for sales, you have to work in sales. Because if you don’t know this life from the inside, you simply cannot teach it.” And I thought: “Yeah, maybe I need further experience in sales because I started in London, but I didn’t continue.” So I started to look for a job where I could get experience in sales.
Again, I was just very lucky. A company from London was hiring people to sell conferences and hospitality projects. I don’t know if you heard about it, it was a very popular topic at the time. I’m sure they’ve closed now because of the pandemic. But before, and even in 2007, it was already a very, very popular thing. What do you have to do? You have to call financial directors or vice presidents of big companies and tell them that there will be a conference, would you like to send some people. But I didn’t work in conferences, I worked in another department. I was selling hospitality packages for sport events. Formula One, football, rugby, basketball, ice skating, whatever. The most popular, of course, was football.
For me, it was a really hard job. We worked as a call centre, from eight to five, we had a break for lunch and the only thing we had to do was make calls. I made around 100 calls a day, because in order to get to the vice president of the company, you can imagine, it’s not like: “Yes, of course, you can speak to the vice president.” This meant fighting with secretaries. And I had a probation period of three months. After three months, if you didn’t get a deal, you would have another month probation. Or you had to stop because the basic income was very small. You lived on commission. If you made a deal, you got a very big commission. But the basic income was very small. And in the third month I suddenly made a deal. I got in touch with some guy in Spain and he bought some package in basketball, so I stayed.
N.M.: You were calling people all over Europe?
M.S.: Yes. I spoke with them in English. I started with Greece, because I was selling basketball and the sport was popular there. I then moved on to Lithuania, Spain, Slovakia. In the beginning, it was very hard, the people I called were rude and didn’t want to talk to me, but then, on the third month, this guy from Spain bought a package and then another one from Slovakia. I stayed, I started to sell to Kazakhstan, and I made a very big deal that got me a commission of $8,000. It was very good. I got married that year, so we had money for the wedding and the honeymoon. Everything was good. I worked there for three years, until 2010, when I was offered a better paid job in a financial company. After a year and a half, that company went bankrupt, but again, it was very good experience.
After that project I decided I had enough experience in sales. By the way, I forgot about the training idea while I was working. I began with the intention of becoming a trainer, but when I started working in sales, I understood that this wasn’t really what I wanted. I did actually do training, but a few years later.
I decided I needed to keep growing so I looked for work in IT. I had experience in sales, and IT companies also need clients, and they need to look for them. I started to apply to some IT companies, and I got a job as a sales manager again. I went from company to company until 2015, when I got a job at a distributor of IT security systems. I was the Director of the Sales department. And again, it was a really interesting job. From my point of view, it was good, I worked there for one year. I usually worked two or three months in such companies, but this company was very good and had very good employment conditions.
In 2016 I got pregnant, and I went on maternity leave. But I worked until the last day, until the 35th week. My last day was on Friday and the next week, on Wednesday, I gave birth to my twins. That’s when I understood I couldn’t work anymore. Unfortunately, both my parents and my husband’s parents have passed away, so I didn’t have any help with the children. The nanny was quite expensive. Of course, I got some help, but it was very little, and I just understood that with two kids, a job in the office from nine to six was not for me.
N.M.: How long was maternity leave?
M.S.: Three years. While my husband was working, I was at home with the kids. In the first year I didn’t think about the job because I didn’t have time, I had two kids to take care of. And then I started to look around.
When they were one year old, a friend who was living in the Netherlands offered me a project. I spent two months helping her try to sell a book. We found out you cannot sell a book in the Netherlands directly to the shop because all shops are buying books from distributors. It was a good experience. I was writing letters to shops, I was speaking English.
And then, when my kids were two and a half, I talked to my boss and asked if they would like me to come back. They said: “No, we changed everything. So we don’t need you anymore.” And I thought maybe it was for the best because by that time I had understood that I didn’t want that job anymore. Of course, kindergarten was good, but I want to see my children grow up. I remember when I was small, my mom would come pick me up from kindergarten. It was always like 7 o’clock in the evening and she was tired, so she didn’t have time to play with me and I didn’t want this for my kids: to see their mom always tired, coming back late from work. Of course, it still happens sometimes, but at least I’m with them. I see them growing, I can play with them, and they know that mom is here.
So I started to look for an online job because I realized that everything happened online. It was in 2019, before the pandemic, so I was looking around trying to understand how people earned money online. I watched a YouTube video of a Russian blogger and realized that Instagram was the platform where one could make money. So my husband bought me a course for social media networking. I passed this course and I started to work.
I bought another course on Facebook ads and started to work with them. Soon I understood that I was more interested in Facebook ads management than in SMM because it takes less time, you don’t have to post stories, and you don’t have to do content planning. I still do that for my blog, but not for clients. Facebook ads is interesting because it deals with numbers and sales, and because to sell myself to clients, I have to use my skills.
I started to work as a Facebook ads manager. In the beginning I didn’t make much money, but I had clients who were paying me. I got some income. Before the war started, I was making quite good money, around $1,000 per month. And I wasn’t working nine to eight. Yes, of course, sometimes in Kyiv, when kids went to kindergarten from 8:30 to 17:00, I had a whole workday. But when something happens, for example, if they get sick, I have no problem, I can take them to the doctor, I can stay with them.
N.M.: You manage your own time.
M.S.: Yes, I am a manager, I am my own boss, I decide when I want to work hard, when I can postpone. By the way, FITT hired me because we’re making Mural. I don’t know if Jenya told you, but we have started drawing the mural, because 24th of August is Independence Day in Ukraine. They hired me as a Facebook Ads Manager to let people know that there is a mural in Timisoara.
Now I’m doing another course which will help me create my own product and sell it on Instagram. So actually, Instagram helped me find myself. Also, I like it because you have to grow all the time, you cannot stay the same. Facebook is changing all the time, they are changing algorithms. Instagram is changing all the time. Advertising worked one way before the war, and in a completely different way during the war.
N.M.: How did you announce to your Russian clients that it was over? Was it difficult?
M.S.: When the war started, I didn’t have many Russian clients. I also had a group chat with Russian colleagues from a previous project and they said nothing to me. One day, I messaged them saying I was leaving the chat because no one had thought to ask how I was, given the current events. In 10 minutes, messages started coming in saying things like: “You’ve been bombing Donbass for 8 years”, “You deserve it”.
N.M.: And these were people from Russia? Young people?
M.S.: Yes. Yes, people from Russia. Not very young, mostly my age. “You deserve it.” You know, they are so brainwashed by their propaganda. Even when I was sending them pictures from my window, because we stayed in Kyiv for 3 days… There was a fight near Gostomel airport, maybe 20 kilometres from our house. We saw it. It was far away, but we saw the explosions. You wake up in the morning and you hear “boom, boom boom” from the window. And I recorded it for them. I said: “Okay, guys, that’s how it is.” They said: “It’s fake. You’re bombing yourselves, you deserve this”, and so on.
In the first months we all tried to ask them: “What is going on? Your country’s attacked our country.” But now I don’t even try to explain it anymore because I understand that some people are just blind and deaf. They don’t want to see, they don’t want to hear. After Bucha, after Mariupol, after Kharkiv, what fake news, come on guys, what fake news? We don’t even have enough weapons to bomb ourselves. We simply don’t have enough weapons to bomb Mariupol. And they are blaming us. But you know, this is why this war is so difficult, because Russia is like a fox, you know, they’re very sly. They’re saying one thing and doing another. Someone said that an agreement with Russia isn’t worth the paper it’s signed on because they sign the paper, then an hour later, they do a different thing. So they always lie and blame others. We are the victims, but they are blaming us and playing the victim.
When we were talking, I told her: “Imagine, for example, someone raped you. Who is the victim?” She said: “If you walk around in a short skirt, of course you will get raped.” So you see, this is how they think. They are trying not to see what is going on. But I am still in touch with this client from St. Petersburg and she tells me there are a lot of people around her who understand what is going on, but are too scared to do anything. They are not like us. Because when we didn’t want Yanukovych – like you, with Ceaușescu – everyone went to Maidan and we just kicked him out.
But they simply cannot because they’ve been living like this for many years. They used to hold protests and demonstrations, but people got 15 years in prison for doing it, so nobody does it anymore. On the one hand, I understand that they’re scared, but on the other hand, how can a government be changed by doing nothing? In the end, you don’t know what to do or how to behave.
N.M.: You stayed in Kyiv?
M.S.: Yes, we stayed in Kyiv for 3 says and on the 26th of February we decided to leave because it was getting too scary. We could hear shooting from our house, Gostomel was on fire, there were explosions every day. We lived on the 23rd floor, and the elevators had stopped running. It was impossible to go up and down the stairs with two kids, so we decided to go somewhere else. A friend of mine suggested that we went to his mother’s house in Fastiv, a city 80 kilometres from Kyiv. It was in the opposite direction from Bucha, Irpin, and Gostomel, and it was actually quiet there, only air raid sirens, no explosions. We stayed there for a month. But it wasn’t safe anywhere in Ukraine. For example, Vasylki airport was only 100 kilometres away.
Fastiv was rather quiet. My husband and I, our two kids, my friend, his girlfriend, and his mother all lived in one house. So seven people altogether. The house was not very big, so after a month we became tired of each other. Of course, we managed to live together, because there was a war going on and we simply had to, but sharing a small house with people you don’t know can get tiring. We decided to go back to Kyiv.
At the time I was talking to Jane, who was already here, in Timișoara. They left a few hours after the war started, stayed in Cluj for a while, then moved here. They used to live in Odesa before the war and we visited each other on weekends at least three times a year. We were very good friends, she used to work with my husband before I met him, and we’ve known each other for 20 years. So she was already in Timișoara and she told me they missed us. I asked her: “Should we come there too? I don’t see any future here, the kids have nothing to do since kindergartens are closed. I tried doing online English classes with them, but they are only 5 years old.” So Jane said: “Well, you know, it’s a very nice city. If you come over, I will help you. There are some volunteer organizations. I will help you find a place to live, and you can stay with us in the meantime. I’m sure we will find something because the city is not very big and not a lot of refugees came here because many people went to Poland.”
Another friend of mine suggested I went to Poland, but I refused because I thought Polish people must have grown tired of this. They took in 1 million people in the course of a few months, that cannot be easy. So I did some research. Timișoara is very nice, not very big, and there weren’t a lot of refugees there, so people were probably not that tired of the situation. I said: “Okay, I’m coming. Maybe for a couple of months, I don’t know.” I was getting tired of staying in Kyiv with all the air raid sirens. You never know what’s going to happen. They don’t have rocket missiles to reach Kyiv now, but it doesn’t mean they will not have them tomorrow. The Russian troops are still in Belarus, so they can do it anytime. And I was getting tired of this situation, of the psychological pressure.
I told my husband I was thinking of going to Romania and taking the kids with me and he agreed it was a good idea because there was nothing to do in Kyiv, with everything closed.
I know that right now some cinemas, cafes and restaurants have reopened, but, for example, our kindergarten is still closed. We are not sure if it will open in September or October.
I took my car and drove from Chernivtsi, through the mountains. I think I passed through all of the Carpathian Mountains. I was a bit nervous, but I am an experienced driver, so that helped.
N.M.: How long did it take?
M.S.: Two days.
N.M.: What route did you take?
M.S.: From Kyiv, we drove to Kamianets-Podilskyi, which is one hour and a half from Chernivtsi. And from Chernivtsi to the border, it’s another half an hour. It’s very close.
My husband brought us to Kamianets-Podilskyi, and then one of our friends who was going back to Kyiv picked him up for the return trip. I drove from Kamianets-Podilskyi to the Romanian border, and then through the mountains to our destination. Jane’s husband booked me an apartment in Bistrița because I wanted to go as far as I could through the mountains, but I also needed to sleep. So we stopped in Bistrița and got to Timișoara the next day. It was an interesting experience because driving through the mountains we got to see all these villages. My husband and I like traveling. We’ve actually visited 39 countries so far, Romania was my 38th and Serbia my 39th. I like to visit new countries and see how people live, what they look like, and so on.
N.M.: And you’ve seen the countryside?
M.S.: Yes, I’ve seen the countryside. For example, I haven’t been to Bucharest yet, because it’s quite far, but I’ve seen almost everything in this part of the country, which is nice. I also travelled seven hundred kilometres by bus to get to the seaside, somewhere near Constanța. So if someone asked me what parts of Romania I’ve seen I could say: “I’ve been to a lot of places.” You have a very beautiful country. It’s similar to Ukraine, because you have a lot of fields and a lot of mountains. Timisoara was surprising for me because of its interesting climate. Somehow it’s like the Mediterranean. There are these trees that usually grow in southern cities. But on the other hand, when we came here in April, it was very hot in the daytime and cold at night. When it was 43 degrees Celsius in summer, it was too much even for me.
I like the climate in general because it’s very good for my son. Because in Kyiv he has some problems with…it’s not asthma. There are some diseases similar to asthma that cause people to have trouble breathing. But he doesn’t have asthma. Our paediatrician says he will overcome it when he grows up, but she advised us to go to the seaside, somewhere hot, with low humidity. So we came in April, I took some medicine with me because I was afraid that he would start coughing, like from an allergy. But from April till now he has had no symptoms. The doctor also told us swimming was good for his lungs, so he is swimming three times a week in a pool called Heaven. We don’t have these kind of swimming pools in Kyiv.
N.M.: So you’re in contact with your paediatrician?
M.S.: Yes, I have her Viber. She is in Ukraine.
N.M.: So you’re here with the kids. What about your husband?
M.S.: He stayed in Kyiv, with our cat. Almost all our friends – the men – stayed in Kyiv. And all my women friends are with their kids. They’ve gone to the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, all over the place.
Yesterday, one of my friends asked me if I was going back and I said that if I didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t have left at all. I work online and I only need an internet connection, but I need something to do for the kids. For example, our kindergarten was closed. I’m not sure they will open and even if they open, it’s going to work from 9 to 12. It’s the same story here, I have three hours for myself, from 9 to 12, then I have to take them for a walk. But here we can go to the playground, the swimming pool, or the city centre. What am I going to do with them in Kyiv, walk around the playground near the house? There is nothing to do. That’s why I decided to stay. I don’t know, maybe for another couple of months. We cannot make plans now. No one can plan because we don’t know what is happening tomorrow.
N.M.: How does this uncertainty make you feel?
M.S.: You know, I got used to it. At first, it was very difficult, I can tell you that. During the first three days, I thought we were all going to die. Really. I was so scared that I… I don’t know how to describe this feeling… Imagine you could die in 10 minutes. Just imagine this. I lived with this feeling for three days. Like we could die anytime, maybe today, maybe tomorrow. But then you get used to it because you have to live somehow. And then we went to Fastiv, and it was safe there. You start to relax a little bit, you start not to worry, you understand you’re not going to die, everything seems okay, and you start making plans, at first for one day, then for two days, then for three. I am afraid to make any plans because I understand that as long as the war is going on, you cannot plan for anything because you don’t know what will happen tomorrow. You see what is going on in the world. Because the war in Ukraine is just one part of it. What is going on in Taiwan is another. What is going on in Iran, and Iraq is another.
Now, when I plan, I’m making plans for a week. From Monday until the weekend. On weekends, we usually have some rest and go to various places. I have some uncertain plans for October, when it’s my birthday. But again, I’m just thinking about it and not doing anything yet. It’s very good that I bought this course because it actually takes my mind off being scared. Of course, I read the news in the morning and in the evening. Of course, I talk to my husband almost every day. I have a lot of friends that I talk to. But none of them are making any long-term plans, because we don’t know. Yesterday I talked to a friend of mine who has four kids, two of them twins.
N.M.: Where is she?
M.S.: She’s in Germany. Her husband was working on Mriya, he was flying the biggest plane in Europe which the Russians have burned. The company has its headquarters in Leipzig, and it offered to reemploy its staff in Germany. So my friend and her family first went to Poland, then they moved to Leipzig, but her husband was now asked to go back to Kyiv because they are doing something in Hostomel. So she lives in Leipzig with her four kids, while her husband is back in Kyiv. And we were discussing my life here, and her life there, and she said she was afraid to go back to Kyiv with four kids. They travelled so much. On the 25th of February they went to Zakarpattya, then Poland, then they moved to Leipzig. You can imagine what that’s like with four kids. And she said she needed to know it was completely safe before she could go back to Kyiv. I feel the same. When I first came here, the kids were missing my husband, so I told him I was ready to go back to Ukraine so we could see each other again. But I didn’t want to go all the way back to Kyiv or travel through the mountains again and go to Chernivtsi.
N.M.: What did you tell your children about leaving home?
M.S.: Well, they understand everything. They heard the explosions, they know about the war. We told them. I remember that Eva was asking Jane: “Where do monsters live?” And Jane said: “Monsters live in the neighbouring country called Russia.” So they know that monsters came and we had to leave. I’m trying not to lie to them because they already understand a lot. I mean they are almost six, they will be six in February. And I don’t need to invent something because we spent one month in Fastiv, they’ve seen things. I mean they haven’t seen the big explosions, thank God. But they heard explosions, they knew there was shooting going on, that monsters came for some reason, and we were fighting them off.
Nothing special. I’ve read somewhere that as kids grow, you have to tell them the truth, if you can. Because when you start lying, they will find out and stop trusting you. I do lie to them about some things sometimes, of course, like: “Mom, we were in your bottom? How did we get out?” Well, what can I tell them?
N.M.: But you will tell them later.
M.S.: Yes, yes, yes, yes, but later. Not now. I just tell them that they flew out. Or they ask me where their grandmother is. And I tell them she died. They ask what it means to die. I tell them she just became a cloud, then they want to know how she became a cloud, and you know, all this how, why, what, how… So I try to explain things to them, and I try not to lie because I understand that if it’s not scary for them… And war, well… War is war. What can we do? Bringing them here I did everything to shelter them from what was happening in reality, but some parts they’ve seen, they’ve heard the explosions, they’ve seen people. We have a lot of friends, and they ask: “Where is Varya, where is Olya?” Olya is in Spain, Varya is in Warsaw, Alika is in Switzerland, Stefaniya is in Germany. So they know that everyone is in other countries.
I was really scared for a month because I lost all my clients when everyone stopped doing business. My husband is a landscape designer, he had also stopped working, and we were thinking about how we were going to make a living. We had 2 kids to support, what could we do?
But in March I started thinking: “Okay, I speak English very well, I work online. I have to look for clients in other countries.” And this Russian girl living in Munich saved me because we started work on the 23rd of February. Then the war started, and she was messaging me: “Masha how are you? How are you? How are you?” And then four days later, when we moved to Fastiv, I messaged her and said: “If you want, I can work with you because I need to focus my mind on something else.” Because I was reading the news all the time and it was really scary. And I worked with her for two months. She was paying me. And she saved me.
In April my clients started to come back and when I came here it was still quite difficult, but now I have my clients and I will have new ones too, because people have started working. And now I have this feeling… You know that feeling that your life is not set, but at least you have something to live on, that you can earn a living? I have some help from LOGS, they help, I have a place to live, kids interact with other kids. So now I have this feeling that everything is okay.
But before, it was really dramatic because no one knew what to do, how to live. I know that it was tough for Jane too, because Denis lost his job and she’s on maternity leave, and it was the same story: how to leave, where to go, where to get money. But now we are all a little bit set in our lives. We don’t have the conditions from before the war, but at least I feel safe. I have some income, I have some help. I have a place to live, thank you very much for that. My kids are okay. Of course, we are watching the news. I have my income, I donate all the time to different foundations for our military and for whatever. So now it’s, it’s, yeah, it’s bittersweet.
And I have mixed, bittersweet feeling for Russians who still don’t understand what’s going on. A big part of them supports this bloody war and it’s bittersweet because they don’t understand what is going on, and they don’t understand what is going to happen next. They are hated now, and they will be hated for a long time. It’s not something that’s going to last one or two years. It’s like it was with the German people. It’s going to be decades, generations. Our kids will hate them. All those kids who were born during the bombing will know where they were born and what was going on. So they will be the most hated nation for decades. If I were them, I would be really scared. Because there’s all this hate in the world against them.
N.M.: Some understand…
M.S.: They understand, and they don’t support this war. But they are scared because they cannot even say anything because they are followed by the services. And they are just scared. They live like in 1933, under a dictatorship. But I think you had the same with Ceaușescu, yes?
N.M.: Yes, with the secret police.
M.S.: KGB. The secret police that is following you, your social network accounts, your phones.
N.M.: FSB. KGB was the previous name.
M.S.: Yes, FSB. Same thing. People are scared because they live in this society. But on the other hand, we blame them. Because guys, you’ve been supporting this government for years, you are paying taxes, and they buy rockets with your money that kill us. So, sorry, it’s all connected. It didn’t happen in one day. They knew this, they supported this.
N.M.: Some of them tried.
M.S.: Yes, but just a couple of them. There are 144 million of them and maybe 2% tried. When we had Maidan, well, the entire country came to Kyiv to fight against Yanukovych and what he was doing. You know, you need this critical amount… You know, when the glass is full. Their glass is not full yet.
N.M.: Maybe it’s not bad enough to make them…
M.S.: …do something. On the other hand, I see what should happen. It should start from inside the government, you know, some small tear and then it will just break, you know, like the Soviet Union. Everything fell apart in the end. And it took decades. They will build the same state again, with the same dictator, but it will take decades. But we’ll see. All the empires, all the dictators they have the same story. But I was discussing this with Jane, it could take a few years.
N.M.: If it takes decades, it will mean your whole lifetime.
M.S.: Yes, yes, yes, yes. But now, you know, the war is different, as you can see. Before, the wars were long because the weapons were not so modern. Now we have more modern weapons, and mass media to cover all the stories, so you see that everything is more active. So I hope that it won’t last for years. A year, maybe two. I don’t know. Definitely one year. And maybe in two years it’s going to be over. Because they already destroyed a huge number of weapons, huge! Billions of dollars. And they have to… They cannot manufacture them in one day. Because I don’t know how long it takes to manufacture rockets, maybe a couple of months, maybe more. And you need a lot of them. They already dropped 2,000-3,000 rockets on Ukraine. You have to refill the stock somehow.
N.M.: And you need money…
M.S.: You need money, and you need production. Because before they were already manufactured and somehow they were in storage. But now you have to refill the stock.
N.M.: And to refill it, you need money, you need… We’ll see.
M.S.: We’ll see.
Translation: Evghenia Jane Rozbitska
Proofreading: Cristina Chira, Alexandra Palconi-Sitov
Photo credit: Mircea Sorin Albuțiu