Participants: Anna Brechko (A.B.), Nicoleta Mușat (N.M.)
Location & date: FITT Timișoara, Romania / August 2022
N.M.: So tell me, what do you know about your grandparents? Then we shall move on to your parents. Where were they born, what were their names, what was their heritage?
A.B.: I don’t know this information. I think my mom knows this information. I have never been interested in this. I heard stories, how people survived without food and so on. Like my parents now. They are also scared, but they stayed at home, they didn’t want to come.
N.M.: Where are your parents now?
A.B.: My parents are now in Ukraine, in Rivnenska area (near the city Rivne). And it is not far from Lviv, you probably heard about it. Lviv is similar to Timisoara, in terms of architecture.
N.M.: Were they born there?
A.B.: Yes, they were born there. They lived in Kazakhstan when they were young. Then my grandmother got sick, she called my mom, and my mom came back. So I was born here in Ukraine. My mother was looking after my grandmother, and she started living in Ukraine and she has never traveled anywhere. (she laughs) My parents are still together, everything is good, they love each other, sometimes they argue, like all families. I have a brother. He is 10 years older than me. Thank God he started work as a truck driver a few months before the war. I say thank God because I don’t know how my mom would have reacted if he had to go to war. A couple of times military people came to call him to war.
N.M.: To take him into the army?
A.B.: Yes, exactly.
N.M.: How old is your brother?
A.B.: He is 43 now. No, 42. (she laughs) And thank God he wasn’t at home, because nobody wants to die. And all these families without husbands… This is all very hard.
N.M.: So your mother lived in Kazakhstan. What did she do there?
A.B.: She was working in kindergarten. They lived there for a few years. They liked being there. They both like singing and they play sopilka (a musical instrument). And sometimes people invited them to birthday parties, to weddings, and they loved doing this.
N.M.: Was this a hobby?
A.B.: Yes. They were working, but in their free time they were also playing.
N.M.: Was your farther also working in Kazakhstan?
A.B.: Yes, yes, he was working there. He was a policeman, but then he left his job and came to Ukraine with my mother. They are both from Ukraine. They were trying to change their life, I think for the better.
N.M.: Did they live in Kazakhstan during the Soviet Union?
A.B.: No, this was before they had me. My brother was also born in Ukraine. But then they moved and my brother also moved with them, he went to kindergarten there.
N.M.: And this was during the Soviet Union?
A.B.: Yes, maybe, yes. My mother turns 70 years old this September.
N.M.: Most likely it was.
A.B.: My parents got used to normal life, to having a house, to doing things. My grandmother used to tell us about their life back in the day. You know, we, as kids, we were asking things all the time: we want this, we want that, and she told us, you don’t know what it’s like not to have food, you don’t know this, and now I understand how hard it is for many people in Ukraine. We are good, we are safe and we are here, but we don’t know how is it on the other side. I still hurt because my parents are there, they don’t want to come, and they keep telling me: everything is fine here, don’t worry. Everybody should have faith and pray that this will finish soon.
N.M.: Where did you study?
A.B.: I studied in Lviv. I am an architect. I was working in Lviv and then I went on maternity leave. Here in Timisoara a lady, a teacher of yoga from Logs, invited me to work as her florist. I don’t speak Romanian, but next week we should meet with the boss and see what we can work out. I can’t work the whole day because I have a child, but we will see. I am trying to think positively and move on. I hope to see my parents one day. I hope we will come back to Ukraine one day.
N.M.: Do you talk to them?
A.B.: Yes, all the time.
N.M.: How often?
A.B.: All the time. They were busy during summer with cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini.
N.M.: Do they live in a village?
A.B.: It’s not a village. We have a house, but not in the village, and there is a garden. And my parents like taking care of plants. Also, it is a big difference between vegetables from shops and those grown in your own garden. They taste different, do you understand what I mean?
N.M.: Why didn’t they come here?
A.B.: They were scared of another country. What were they going to do here? And now they think they are safe because the situation is not so bad in their area. But where they are now is close to Belorussia and if Belorussia invades… Then they will have to run away. We hope nobody invades. But we also hoped that on the 24th of February. I used to live in Kyiv.
N.M.: Did you move to Kyiv after you graduated university? Did you work there?
A.B.: Yes, I worked there as an architect, as a designer. More like freelance designer. Then I had Dominic (my son) and I stopped working, I went on maternity leave.
N.M.: When did you decide to come here?
A.B.: When the war started, we were on our phones all the time, reading the news, we didn’t sleep, we were scared. My child didn’t understand what was happening, he heard air raid sirens and asked: what was this? He also asked: why are you crying? I didn’t want to create stress for him. And then I started to think of where to go, I didn’t want to sit around and wait to see what happened next. We’ve been here since March.
N.M.: How was the 24th of February?
A.B.: It’s another story. The 24th of February is Dominic’s birthday, he was born exactly on that date. He turned 4 years old. We were going to kindergarten with fruit and sweets to celebrate his birthday. I prepared everything and it was a normal morning, we woke up, we did our usual things, and then my mother called and said: you shouldn’t go anywhere, everything is already closed, war has started. I was shocked.
N.M.: So you didn’t go to kindergarten?
A.B.: No. The war started at 4 a.m. in the morning. Everyone found out the news, people started calling each other, everyone was in distress. Also, I was standing near the window and I heard the helicopters.
N.M.: Do you live in a block of flats?
A.B.: We live on the 17th floor, and that’s very high.
N.M.: Did you seen anything? Or did you hear anything?
A.B.: Yes, I have seen and heard helicopters. But, thank God, nothing happened to our building. We were lucky not to be in Bucha, Irpin, Gostomel, where there was total disaster.
N.M.: Have you been to Bucha, Irpin before the war? Somebody told me there were a lot of parks and nice buildings.
A.B.: Yes, I have visited them. There were a lot of playgrounds, a lot of parks. I know a lady there. But she doesn’t have an apartment anymore.
N.M.: Was it bombed?
A.B.: Yes. They were hiding in the basement, afraid of going out to get food, because the streets had been bombed and blocked.
N.M.: How did you experience those days when the war had just started? When did you realize that your city and your country had been invaded? Did you go into hiding somewhere?
A.B.: I was on the phone all the time. And then I moved to my parents. My mom called and said: come here with Dominic, it will be safe here. I don’t have a car and my friend gave me a lift to my parent’s house. It was a scary time. People were sitting in the dark because of air raid sirens. And then my parents started telling me: go away, save your life and your child (she starts crying). I wanted them to come with me, but they refused. And the whole journey here was horrible, people were scared, everyone was running.
N.M.: How was Dominic? Did he know the war had started?
A.B.: Yes, he knew, he saw the news. He watched the news with my dad. I sometimes think of going back to my parent’s house, but it is very close to Belorussia, and I am just scared.
N.M.: What about your apartment in Kyiv?
A.B.: We were renting. We don’t live there anymore, somebody else lives there. Our landlord put somebody else in there. I thought this would not last for long, 3 weeks, 1 month, that’s it. But no, it continues. At the moment I don’t have a place to come back to in Ukraine. However, Ukraine is better for me, we have good medicine and doctors there. Everything is easier for us. Here it is different. There are rules and they are different. Like this train yesterday… It was dirty, I was shocked.
N.M.: You traveled by train yesterday? Where to?
A.B.: We traveled to Bucharest to get Dominic’s passport (he doesn’t have one). I went with another mom (she has two kids) and we traveled together. And it was hard. (she laughs)
N.M.: It’s a long way.
A.B.: Yes, it was a long way. The train was dirty, we were on the train for many hours, there was a problem with toilets and people were smoking (I don’t smoke). But thank God I came back safe. (she laughs) I learned a lesson. (she laughs)
N.M.: Do you now appreciate your country more?
A.B.: Yes, definitely. (she laughs) I liked Bucharest, I liked the architecture, it’s a big city, a lot of traffic. But I liked it. Also, I like Timisoara, because people here are kind, like in Lviv. They are similar, these two cities. Whatever I ask, which bus to take, or where to go, even if people don’t speak English they try to help. That’s nice. But anyway, everybody wants to come back home.
N.M.: Why did you decide to come to Romania?
A.B.: One year ago, I met a man, he was from Timișoara. He was visiting Ukraine often, he had relatives in Chernivtsi, and his mother was Romanian. When the war started, he wrote to me and said: come here, you will be safe. He even wanted to come to Ukraine, but the situation was difficult, planes didn’t fly. So I came to Poland, where I met my friends (they are retired), and waited for my boyfriend to come and pick us up. So he came, picked us up and brought us to Timișoara. He found us an apartment where we all lived together for three weeks. But I thought it was only going to be for three weeks.
N.M.: You only thought you would be staying here for three weeks?
A.B.: Yes. Nobody wanted this war. And we thought something would change and it would stop. But then bad news, bad news, nothing changed… And we understood this would not stop soon. Then my friend invited us to change apartments and live with him and join the program 50/20. So we moved to Steli’s apartment (that’s his name), and I felt safe. He loves Dominic, I feel safe there is a man, and he cares about us, so I am not alone. Then I found a kindergarten for Dominic, and life became like normal. The first two months I didn’t go anywhere, I didn’t meet other Ukrainian people, for me it was enough to go outside and play with Dominic. Because we thought we would come back soon. But now he doesn’t allow me to come back. He knows about my parents and he offered to go there and bring them to Timișoara. But they are not ready.
N.M.: Is Dominic going to a Romanian kindergarten?
A.B.: Yes, to a Romanian one, a public one. There is a Ukrainian kindergarten, it’s private and there is a group of Ukrainian kids. But it was full and there was no place for us there. Then I got an invitation from a Romanian kindergarten. Dominic is happy there. He is picking up the language very fast. And for me it is great to see he is happy. That’s all moms want, to see their kids happy. When they don’t see this, they stress and cry.
N.M.: And then you met the other Ukrainian people?
A.B.: Yes. It was an event organized by Logs. I met some people, we exchanged contacts. Also, Logs invited me for masterclass for kids, they were sewing bags. Also, they have yoga classes.
N.M.: And that’s where you met this lady?
A.B.: Yes, Mikhaela. And she offered me a job. And now I think everything will be good if I have a job. Because everything is much more expensive here. And no one knows when this is going to end.
N.M.: How many more months are you going to stay here?
A.B.: I don’t know. The war will last for 1 or 2 years, I think. As these bombs and weapons are very expensive, everybody is making money off this. All of this is very difficult. I was crying when I read the news about Russian soldiers raping women and kids, this is shocking. And the main question: why? You don’t have enough of something in your country?
N.M.: Where are you friends here from?
A.B.: From Odessa, from Dnipro.
N.M.: You have friends here from Ukraine, right?
A.B.: Some of them from Ukraine. I also had a friend in Kyiv who had three kids, they moved with the family to Slovenia. Another one of my friends moved to Germany. Everybody is in different places. One of my friends from Kyiv didn’t know where to go, so I offered her to stay with my parents. She stayed with them for 3 or 4 weeks, because she was scared to stay in Kyiv. Also, she was thinking that maybe she should go abroad, but I told her she would need money to go abroad and be ready for different situations, as she doesn’t speak English. She is alone with her child (her husband is not allowed to cross the border). So staying with my parents was a good decision and afterwards she came back to Kyiv.
N.M.: Is she in Kyiv now?
A.B.: Yes, she is in Kyiv.
N.M.: Is it safer in Kyiv now?
A.B.: It’s difficult to say. Some say it is normal life, people got used to it. When they hear air raid sirens, they continue their life. They are not scared anymore.
N.M.: Are people going to work?
A.B.: Yes. But a lot of people lost their job, and it is very difficult to find one. A lot of people lost everything.
N.M.: Your parents, for example, they are retired. Do they still receive their pensions (money from the government)?
A.B.: Yes, thank God, they have been receiving them all this time. I am also trying to help. When I came here with Dominic, I was saving money because I didn’t know what to expect. But now I am trying to help them as much as I can. When the war started, people ran to the shops and started to buy everything. Also, some shops raised prices, which is not correct from my point of view. People were taking all the products in panic, there were queues. I waited in a queue with my father, because my mom was staying with Dominic, and I was thinking what to buy, because I didn’t know if I should stay or if I should go abroad and if I would manage to buy anything the next day.
N.M.: What were people buying?
A.B.: Sunflower oil, flour (to make bread), hrichka, pasta, and so on. Everybody was afraid to run out of food. While I was in the queue, I saw people were buying a lot, because everybody was scared. Also, these air raid sirens, when you hear them, you get really scared.
N.M.: Did you hear the sirens from your parent’s place?
A.B.: Yes, I did. But I stayed with my parents only for a few days. Then my boyfriend insisted we moved. He was worried and he told me I would be safer in Timisoara. Also, he said: if your parents are ready too, just take them and move. Don’t wait.
N.M.: What did you pack? What did you take with you?
A.B.: Simple things. I had only one extra bag, there was some medicine, food and clothes for me and for him. That’s it. Also, I realized that I might not fit on the bus with a big bag.
N.M.: I heard people were taking only important things.
A.B.: Yes, it was wintertime, so I had one jacket for him, one for me, documents, and that’s it. Only when I crossed the border with Poland did I start breathing in relief. However, I am still not calm inside. I knew I would be with my boyfriend, but I wasn’t calm because I had left my parents in Ukraine. I felt I was betraying my parents. But they were pushing me to go.
N.M.: Did you feel guilty?
A.B.: Yes. But I kept in touch with them, with my mom, and I still keep in touch almost every day.
N.M.: How does she feel now, you mother?
A.B.: She feels better now, because I am sending her photos and videos of Dominic, and she knows we are safe. I keep inviting her to come and see us. But she always has excuses (she smiles), potatoes, strawberries, taking care of the garden. I keep telling her that she can come and then go back if she wants. But at least we will be together for 1 or 2 weeks. But she doesn’t want to leave the house, as my dad will not be able to take care of it. He is big (fat) and it is very difficult for him to move. And my mom is very active, she is still riding a bicycle.
N.M.: And your brother?
A.B.: He is on the move all the time. He was in Germany, then somewhere else. I keep in touch with him, and we help our parents together. His wife and son are staying near Ternopil area. And his wife is a teacher of German language, she is a very kind and correct person. I told her to go to Germany and I invited her to come to Timisoara. It’s always good to be with family. But she was too scared to go to another country and she asked me to take her son with me. He is 14 years old. And I am his godmother. So she asked him if he wanted to come with me and he refused. He said he didn’t want to leave his mom. Eventually she came to Poland and they spend time with my brother, because he had one week holiday.
N.M.: Is she in Poland now?
A.B.: Yes, she is in Poland now. This week they are together and next week she is coming back.
N.M.: Does she want to go back?
A.B.: Yes, she says: I have my job, I have my mom. And it is very difficult to persuade her, she believes the war will finish soon, everybody believes that, but what if something happens? You have a child. Also, my brother is a driver, so they could be together, she speaks German very well. It wouldn’t be a problem for her to find a job. She is young, she is only 36. But I can’t push her. Everyone has their own mind.
N.M.: Are you afraid for them?
A.B.: I want everybody to be safe and well (she smiles). If there is the news: war finished, ok, then we can relax. But so far, we don’t know what might happen.
N.M.: Did you know anything about the Second World War? Did you link this to any other war?
A.B.: All wars are bad for everybody. And people are scared all the time.
N.M.: Especially when they are talking about nuclear war or nuclear weapons, or about Zaporiggia. Did you think of Chernobyl?
A.B.: Chernobyl is also a nuclear power plant. My mom says that some people have health problems because radiation is still in the air after Chenobyl. But you know, if he (Putin) wants, he will kill us in a second. I don’t understand why people don’t overthrow him.
N.M.: Do you have Russian friends?
A.B.: I have my cousin. He was born in Ukraine and then he went to Murmansk to make some money. Before the war, people were going to Russia to earn money. He is 50 now, he has a daughter and he is businessman. And he lives in a city not far from Moscow. And he came to Ukraine often. He loves Ukraine. When the war started, I talked to him, and he was shocked. And he told me he had stopped watching Russian news because there were so many lies. He said everything was fake news. Now he watches the Ukrainian news. And he says: I don’t know when I will be able to see my mom next.
N.M.: Do you speak Russian?
A.B.: Yes, I can speak Russian, but mostly I speak Ukrainian. In Kyiv a lot of people speak Russian, but I always spoke Ukrainian. For example, Jane speaks Russian and sometimes she changes to Ukrainian. And now people are asking her: you are from Ukraine, why do you speak Russian? And sometimes they fight about the language (she smiles).
N.M.: When did you learn Russian?
A.B.: I learned it in school.
N.M.: And you parents? What language do they speak?
A.B.: They only speak Ukrainian. My grandmother and other relatives, my brother, they speak only Ukrainian. Dominic sometimes speaks Russian, because he was born in Kyiv and he was playing outside with other kids. And when kids asked him something, he answered them in Russian as well. I don’t want to forbid him to speak Russian. It is not important what language you speak, it is more important how you feel inside.
N.M.: Do you have plans for the future?
A.B.: I will be honest. My boyfriend is a good person, he loves us, he wants a family, he is serious. But I need more time to see how it goes. I am not that kind of person who wants a man next to her. And I have to think if I want to have a family and more kids, as life is expensive. I want to work. I told him this. But he stopped me. He said: you have a child, you have to take care of him. He wants me to stay at home (she smiles). Maybe he is scared I will run away (she smiles). But he travels with his job to Italy, and I trust him. So he has to trust me. For women, it is very important to develop. Then everybody is happy.
N.M.: There is a proverb in English: happy wife, happy life.
A.B.: Yes, men sometimes say: she is killing my brain. Well, then change something! Start talking to her, or maybe listen to her. But now everything is good, thank God.
N.M.: Have you started working already?
A.B.: Not yet. This week we have Friday and Saturday. I will not be working every day. And that’s good because Dominic needs my time as well. I have to drop him off at kindergarten, then pick him up.
N.M.: How many hours does Dominic stay at the kindergarten?
A.B.: It starts at 8 a.m., but we sometimes arrive at 9, and at 4 p.m. I have to pick him up. And times flies. The day had just started, and it’s already done. But everything will be good.
N.M.: Thank you very much for the interview!
Translation: Evghenia Jane Rozbitska
Proofreading: Cristina Chira, Alexandra Palconi-Sitov
Photo credit: Mircea Sorin Albuțiu