Participants: Mariia Kovalova (M.K.), Nicoleta Mușat (N.M.)
Location & date: FITT Timișoara, Romania / August 2022
M.K.: So, I’m not married. I have a son, Bogdan. Until the 24th of February I lived with a man. He is not my official husband. I want to start with this because he just died. 10 days ago. It’s very hard. But I came here. I’m sorry for my puffy eyes, but it’s life, I need to cry. He couldn’t survive our separation. He drank a lot because he couldn’t stand it. I was the centre of his world. But he insisted, he sent me here, it was his decision to save us. He was not Bogdan’s father. But he loved us very much until his last days. He had a heart attack. He died in an elevator. This is also a situation caused by war.
N.M.: How did you find out?
M.K.: We found out after one week. He lived alone, and he wasn’t in touch with anybody. His neighbours found him in the elevator. So the police took him and he was at the morgue for a week.
N.M.: Had he any other family or were you his family?
M.K.: We are from Odesa. And because he didn’t want to keep in touch with people, nobody knew. Our relationship was at a difficult point the last time we saw each other, he began drinking and I told him that it’s also difficult for me, but I don’t drink. I’m trying to survive, I’m trying to work, I didn’t leave my Ukrainian job, I’m working online. And I try to do something here. But unfortunately, not all Ukrainian men are strong.
N.M.: How old was he?
M.K.: 45, but in three weeks he was supposed to turn 46.
N.M.: So 46.
M.K.: Yes. It’s a part of my life that’s very… very… how to say…
N.M.: It’s very sad.
M.K.: Yes. Very sad. Yes, very sad, you are right. And I have no mother. She died a long time ago, about 20 years ago. And I have a father who came here with me at the end of March. I came here on the 24th of March, one month after the beginning of the war. But he has already gone back to Ukraine.
N.M.: Your father?
M.K.: Yes. One month ago. Because for older people it’s very difficult to adapt. He missed everything. I also miss my home, all the time. I connect with my friends on video all the time. But it’s not the same. I’m very active in my life because… I used to be active. I had my work. I’m Head of Department at a big company in the world of cosmetics. We are distributors of French cosmetics. I also work there because according to my education I’m a French teacher. When I’m free, I continue teaching French so as not to forget it. So I had a happy interesting life together with my husband. So everything was good.
N.M.: Tell me more about that. What were the best moments?
M.K.: The best moment was when I finally gave birth to my son. I couldn’t deliver for a long time. We had a problem with this, and after my mother’s death, this was like a gift to me. It was the best day of my life, and it still is. That’s why I came here. To protect the mental state of my son. Because in Odesa it wasn’t very dangerous. We have problems, we have some rocket attacks, but it wasn’t a real war. And somebody told me that your primary duty is to be a mother, so you have to, you should save your son. So I didn’t want to leave, nobody in Ukraine did. I have two uncles here. They are Romanians and this is not my first time in Romania or in Timișoara. It’s my third time. But the last time I was here, it was 13 years ago. So Bogdan wasn’t yet born. Usually I like traveling, but this time I had no desire to leave our flat, my work, our friends, because I didn’t know if I would see them again.
N.M.: And these two uncles who live here, did they come from Ukraine?
M.K.: Their mother did.
N.M.: How are you related?
M.K.: Their mother was the sister of my father’s mother.
N.M.: And she came here?
M.K.: Yes, during the Second World War. It’s was a similar situation to now. But she came with her sister who was my father’s mother, so my grandmother on my father’s side, and their mother. There were three of them, but they lived separately, because the sister had come earlier.
N.M.: You mean you grandaunt?
M.K.: Yes. She also had a Romanian husband here. I don’t remember all the details. And then her mother and her sister came. They lived separately. And she said, don’t open the door. In any case, if somebody knocks on the door, don’t open it, because Russians will take you away and back to Ukraine. And one day my grandmother opened the door because it was later and she had forgotten, she didn’t believe there was any danger anymore. And Russians came and took her mother and sister back to Ukraine. And my grandmother remained alone. Her mother was taken to a labour camp and she was there for 10 years. 10 years!
N.M.: In Siberia?
M.K.: No, it wasn’t as harsh as that. But her husband was a priest, and she was taken there because of his religion. So my grandmother was alone for a long time without any parents, any relatives. Something happened during that time, because she told us that one day somebody kidnapped her in a car, maybe it was Russians, she didn’t know. The situation after the Second World War was even worse than during the war, because even our people were angry and did bad things, so maybe it was our people. We don’t know. It was not a violence. She didn’t tell us what it was. But they kidnapped her in a car, and she jumped out of the car while it was driving at a high speed. And she had some injuries, but she escaped.
She went through a lot of things and survived. Then at the age of 38 years she went insane. And this condition was related to the war. She heard voices in her head that were related to the war. A lot of words she said were related to the war.
She was in this state for 40 years, without happiness, with those voices, with a lot of problems.
I saw my grandmother from time to time. We sent her to a psychiatric hospital from time to time, but not permanently because she liked freedom very much, and when she was out, she was traveling. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, she was in the Red Square in Moscow. I don’t know why, but she was there.
N.M.: Did she want to see the Kremlin or what?
M.K.: Yes, Kremlin. She was there on that day. But there is another story about her. Her son, my father… Well, before she became insane, she had a good life. She was a very, very beautiful woman and she was an actress. And one day a Romanian scientist came to Odesa, and he saw her on stage, and he fell in love with her. It was a very beautiful romance, a very beautiful relationship. Out of this relationship, my father was born. I will tell you a lot of interesting details, many things are connected with your country…
N.M.: You have Romanian heritage.
M.K.: Yes, yes. My father’s father was married, so he didn’t…
N.M.: He didn’t leave his wife?
M.K.: No. The wife was ill, he didn’t like her, something was wrong in their family. And his name was Gavriil, but I don’t know why everyone called him Vilya. Vilya was his nickname. And when my grandmother gave birth to my father, she had to give him a name. In Ukraine we have not only a name, but also a patronymic. My father is Viliy Vilievich, so she gave him the nickname of his father as a name and his patronymic also comes from the nickname. Viliy Vilievich. My father has always been shy because of this name, because it’s very uncommon and strange in Ukraine. And I’m Mariia Vilievna.
N.M.: What happened to the Romanian father?
M.K.: He died, and he left an inheritance for my father, a big flat in Bucharest. Before his death he invited my father to Bucharest.
N.M.: So he knew that he had a son.
M.K.: Yes. And he…
N.M.: He recognized him?
M.K.: Yes, he recognized him. He left him this flat, but my father couldn’t accept it because at that time we lived in USSR.
N.M.: When was your father born?
M.K.: In 1950. So, what can I tell you? We came here, the three of us.
N.M.: You, Bogdan and your father.
M.K.: Yes, my father too.
N.M.: Does he speak Romanian?
M.K.: No, only some words. We learned some words from talking to our relatives, but we didn’t talk very often. Their mother, who is now 86 years old, is alive. But she is very ill. She can walk, but with difficulty. When we came, she didn’t recognize us. She has lost her memory. But they explained to her that we are her relatives, and she got used to it.
N.M.: And you are living with your uncles now?
M.K.: In the first days of the war our wonderful relatives wrote to us: “Come here, we will give you a flat, we will help you with the financial part, with everything that you will need or want.” But it’s a small flat, and when we came… I hadn’t lived with my father in a long time.
N.M.: Was it difficult for you to live with your father again?
M.K.: It was very difficult. Different ages, different habits. My father chose to go back to Ukraine. My uncle offered to find him another flat, but his desire to see his home city was bigger. That’s why he returned. And, thank God, the situation is normal now. He saw his lovely city, his friends. He is very communicative. So he doesn’t stay at home.
N.M.: Where did he work? Is he retired now?
M.K.: Yes. He worked in constructions.
N.M.: And your mother?
M.K.: My mother was a French teacher. That’s why I also became a French teacher. She chose this for me. And I don’t regret it. Because I know that I’m a good teacher, so I’m good in my profession. My students have been with me for a long time.
In University I studied English as the second language, but I didn’t use it and in time I forgot it. In university, I learned English with my friend, but she liked English more and now she is an English teacher. So this is interesting experience. Because we are friends, when we want to discuss how things are, our problems, we do it in English. It’s useful for me.
N.M.: Where did you study?
M.K.: In Odesa. We have a University of Philology. I’m not a translator. I’m a teacher. A philologue. Here I continue to teach French. And I have my work.
N.M.: Yes, you mentioned that you are Head of Department.
M.K.: Yes, I’m trying to do it online. So, my friend who also works with me in the office, she stayed in Ukraine, and she is working from there. She stayed because there are a lot of military men in her family, and she didn’t want to leave them. She’s working full time. When the war started, she rested for three weeks. After that you get used to the situation and learn how to live with it. If you stay at home and wait for new attacks, you go crazy in a couple of days. So we all decided to live our lives, to continue working, to visit our friends, we are trying to celebrate holidays, to go on with life. But one day a friend of my husband’s—my husband who died was working in humanitarian aid and so did this fiend—he said to me: “Masha, you should go. Something more serious will begin, I don’t know what, maybe more active attacks. They promised to do here what they did in Mariupol”. The thought of having no food, no water was horrible. And I was really afraid because I had my son. Of course, I also had my husband. But after that problem I had giving birth to my son, I worry about him, about his life.
N.M.: How was the 24th of February? What happened on that day? What do you remember?
M.K.: Somebody called me and said…
N.M.: In the morning?
M.K.: In the morning. It was 7 o’clock in the morning. The war began at 5, but I didn’t hear anything. Somebody called me and said: “The war has begun.” I… I… I couldn’t understand because I didn’t hear anything. I have good windows, and they were closed. But a lot of my friends heard rocket attacks.
N.M.: Were there missiles? Bombs?
M.K.: Yes, they attacked military bases, they bombed the military airport.
N.M.: And you lived in Odessa?
M.K.: Yes. In Odessa. After that day the situation was calm. We have a very good rocket defence system. Because Odessa is on the seacoast. So we have a very good view. When the rocket is flying, they can react, shoot it down and defend the coast.
N.M.: And the explosions?
M.K.: Yes, every time, even when they shoot it down, there is a very loud sound everywhere and we don’t know what happened for some time. Of course, after we left, there were some problems in Odessa. A day before Easter there was a huge rocket attack and a rocket hit a civilian building and killed a lot of people. And there were also some attacks in the Odessa region. A lot of buildings were destroyed outside Odessa.
So, my husband tried to do something, he wrote a lot of articles on the Internet, urging the Russian people to fight against this system. He couldn’t go to war because he had some problems. But he tried to help as he could. This was at the beginning.
When I left, he couldn’t imagine his life without me. I explained to him that I would come back, I wouldn’t stay here.
N.M.: Couldn’t he come with you?
M.K.: Maybe he could have. There are some people who tried. He didn’t have any illness to be allowed to cross the border. But we could have found a way. For example, some people escaped through Crimea. But it’s dangerous and we didn’t know what could happen.
N.M.: After how many weeks of war did you decide to leave Ukraine?
M.K.: I made the decision on the 20th of March, I took two days to pack my luggage and…
N.M.: Did you come here in March?
M.K.: Yes. In the beginning, I didn’t want to go away, we thought the war would finish in a month. After one week, my husband’s friend told me that I am a mother before anything else and I need to save my child. I was crying a lot. I didn’t want to leave. Because I love my city, my work, my flat, my friends. All my life I was somehow connected with other countries, with foreign languages. I could have found a husband earlier, when I was young, in my 20’s, some French man maybe. But I didn’t want to, I never wanted to.
And now I don’t know. Because they promised that it’s not the last war. Even after our victory, we might still have other attacks from Russia. And I have my son, he is 12. So in 6 years he will reach the conscription age and he could be taken to war. I don’t want this. Maybe I’m not a very big patriot, but I love my son and I don’t want him to go to war. And if it happens… I don’t know… I will see. After the victory, I want to go back. And maybe then I will try to find him a university abroad. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll stay in Ukraine, and my son could go to study abroad. Yes, yes. A lot of mothers do this with their sons.
When they reach 17, they send them to study abroad. They go help them in the beginning, then they come back.
N.M.: Is your father taking care of your apartment now?
M.K.: Yes. He is watering the flowers. And taking care of my cat. I left my cat with my husband, so now the cat is living in my office. Not with my father, because we have a big office and a lot of space.
N.M.: And your colleagues, what happened to them?
M.K.: Some of my colleagues went abroad, others stayed and worked. Even with those attacks they continue working. And they are selling cosmetics. We are working with pharmacies, so we are selling Lierac, Phyto, Filorga, Bioderma, Nuxe. We have 11 cosmetic brands.
N.M.: Are you selling these products in Ukraine?
M.K.: Yes, in Ukraine. And I’m the Head of the Odesa region. We have 3 or 4 regions now. We also have Kherson. Kherson is a Ukrainian city under Russian occupation.
N.M.: Is that office closed now?
M.K.: Closed. We have no office there, just pharmacies. We don’t know what is happening with them now.
N.M.: And the other offices?
M.K.: The others are in the big cities of Ukraine. In Odesa. The Kharkiv office was closed, I mean, not closed, moved to Dnepr. They merged two offices into one. And in Kyiv, but for some reason, they don’t work every day now, I don’t know why. Odesa is working every day. And in Lviv. It’s the best region during the war, because 5 million Ukrainians have moved there. In case something happens, they can cross the borders quickly.
N.M.: Mariia, what did you pack? What did you put in your luggage?
M.K.: I was coming here, I thought, only for three weeks. My birthday is on the 20th of April. I thought I would come back before my birthday. The first thing I said to my uncle is that I’m only here for three weeks. And they said we will probably celebrate New Year’s Eve together. I was very offended by that, because they said things I didn’t like. But they had information that was not available in Ukraine. In order to encourage us, they said that the war would finish soon, in one month the war would finish. Now they aren’t making any predictions anymore. And we see now that it can’t be finished in one month. But I very much hope that in three months it will be calmer in Ukraine, and the frontline will move to Crimea and Donbass.
We lived with this was for 8 years, without being in danger. Something was happening there, but we didn’t know what.
And until the last day, we didn’t think that such a big war could happen in the 21st century. Even the first three months we didn’t believe it. And now we realize we got used to the idea and we somehow got used to the war. We understand that the whole world and all of Europe are tired of this situation in Ukraine. I understand this. Ukrainians are always asking for something, they need help, they need everything, and other people just want to live their lives. I read a lot of news. And people are tired of hearing about the war.
So it’s difficult for us and I don’t know how we will live after the victory, because the difficult period will continue, and… I hope that I will be able to stay at my work, I pray to God every day, because now I’m all alone with my son, and I have to earn more money, and if not me, who else is going to do it? And I have my father who also needs my help.
They said there will be a very difficult period of rebuilding, of high prices. So I don’t know. But I understand that even in this situation it’s better to stay within the walls of your home. So…
N.M.: Do you feel anxious sometimes? Do you feel stressed?
M.K.: Of course. Every now and then. But I try to calm myself down. When I pray to God, it helps me very much. With my friends, we call each other and we support each other because one friend is in German, another in Poland, another in France, so all over the world. From time to time, we organize video calls with all of us. It’s interesting. It’s amazing.
N.M.: Do you feel closer to them this way?
M.K.: Yes. And thanks to Jane I found something to do in the next three weeks. She offered me job as a cook in a new restaurant that Mihaela opened. She opened a social shop for Ukrainians. And now she has just opened a restaurant. The kitchen doesn’t yet function, only the bar. So, it is only open for drinks. And she proposed that we cook Ukrainian food for dinner on three Fridays and Romanians will come and try it. The first time we did it, Mihaela said: “Girls, it’s a success.” So there was no point doing it the second time. The third girl who helped us is a Romanian working with Mihaela permanently. It’s interesting because we are from different regions. The chief cook is from Vinnitsa in the centre of Ukraine. I’m from the south, with its different cuisine and traditions. For me, it was a bit difficult to understand the chef’s recipes, because in our southern kitchen there is more fish, more seafood, because we were always connected with the world [through the port] and we were influenced by it. The centre and the east of Ukraine have preserved their Ukrainian traditions better. I learned new dishes from the chef, and she also learned from me. We cooked a very popular vegetable salad with boiled vegetables called vinaigrette, and as I have always been in touch with French culture, I told her we also need to make a sauce called vinaigrette. She said: “No, vinaigrette is just the name of the salad.” I told her “In French, vinaigre means vinegar, so it’s a sauce based on vinegar.” But she didn’t believe me. But in the evening, she looked up the original recipe on the Internet and told me: “You were right.” So in the end the salad was served with sauce, and all the Romanians said it’s the best salad and the best dish on the table. It’s made with boiled potatoes, boiled carrots, pickles, fresh onion, boiled beetroot, canned beans and this vinaigrette sauce.
N.M.: What do you put in this sauce?
M.K.: It’s made with mustard, oil, vinegar, and a little bit of honey, so it’s very delicious. You can come to such evenings, there will be some more. I think you will find it interesting. We also cooked some very popular flat pancakes which are stuffed with sweet or salted cheese, or other fillings.
N.M.: And then you put them in the oven?
M.K.: Yes, we put them in the oven with a small piece of butter on top. But not everyone does it like that. You can also fry the pancakes in a frying pan. For the next evening I will cook a special dish from Odesa. It’s aubergine caviar.
N.M.: How do you cook that?
M.K.: You have to grill the aubergine, then chop it. You add fresh tomatoes previously cut into small cubes, a little bit of garlic, some onions. I know that Romanians make this salad with mayonnaise. I want to show people how we cook it. It’s the most popular summer salad in Odesa.
N.M.: Here also.
M.K.: Here also, yes. But my relatives made it for me using mayonnaise. For me it’s a little bit too fat, because the aubergine has a fat-like consistency and when you add mayonnaise, it becomes even fatter. I have known the recipe for a long time because at one point my friends and I organized thematic cooking evenings. We chose a specific country, and we cooked only the typical dishes of that country.
When our friends visited a certain country, we organized such parties.
N.M.: So aubergine caviar is typical of Odesa.
M.K.: We also have another dish called farshmak. It’s like a herring paté. But it’s a Jewish dish, it was brought to Odesa by Jewish people and it’s part of Jewish heritage. There is a big Jewish influence in Odesa’s cuisine. There is another dish, you also have it, beans paté, beans caviar. We make it with onion and paprika. In Odesa we also have little fish called tulka. You need to remove the entrails and heads, then add flour, eggs, sault. And then, using a spoon, you take some of the mix and put it the frying pan. It’s very delicious. You can’t make it in other regions because you can’t find such small fish in such big numbers. It’s something special and very delicious. For example, we also make fried fish with tomato sauce on the top.
N.M.: You fry the fish and then you cover it in sauce?
M.K.: Yes, you fry the fish, then you pour sauce and leave it in the fridge for a night.
N.M.: And you eat it the next day?
M.K.: Yes. Of course, the most popular dish in Ukraine is borscht. It’s our very special soup. But we didn’t cook it for dinner. We will cook it for the festival. In September there will be a big food festival, called La Pas. I don’t know if both of us will cook it or only Iryna, who is the chef in the kitchen.
N.M.: Is it not typical of Odessa?
M.K.: It’s common and popular, but it’s not the speciality of the region. So, for Odesa, the typical dishes are forshmak, tulka balls and aubergine caviar. We also fry a piece of aubergine, spread some garlic mayonnaise on it, then add a slice of tomato on the top. We call it the mother-in-law’s tongue, because it stings, just as the tongue of a mother-in-law.
N.M.: Sounds delicious. Did you learn all these recipes from your mother?
M.K.: Yes, of course. My mother cooked traditional Ukrainian dishes. I’m from a different generation. Ukrainian dishes take a lot of time to cook. So, in time, we changed the recipes so that dishes became easier to cook. I like cooking and my friends like to come for dinner, but as I’m very busy, I usually cook very quick dishes.
In Ukraine we also cook pirozhki, small pies stuffed with different flavours. Also, we have one more very popular dish, but it’s an influence from Belarus. It’s made from potatoes. It’s made in the same way as pirozhki, but dough is made from potatoes. It’s called zrazy.
We also have dumplings. A lot of different types and flavours. Iryna is the master of this dish. For the dinners, she made them with cherries inside. And when they are boiled, she covers them with a bit of sugar and butter. They’re very delicious. At dinner, they disappeared very quickly. There were a lot of guests from Moldova who knew the dish and they want to try it.
N.M.: Did your mother have her own recipe for them?
M.K.: Yes. But the dough for the dumplings is very easy to make. It’s flour, a little bit of oil and water. You can add an egg, if you want. And you have to feel the consistency of this dough. You have to know it. I don’t make them because it takes half a day. And I don’t like them because I don’t like the dough. I also don’t like pirozhki. I can cook, I help Iryna in the kitchen, but I try not to eat dishes with dough. I like salads, aubergine caviar. The last time I also made zucchini caviar, and everyone said it was delicious. And it’s made in a frying pan. So, this is how you make zucchini caviar: you grate a zucchini, chop onion and grate a lot of carrots. And then you fry everything for a long time, add salt, pepper, and a little bit of sugar. You can spread it on bread or eat it as a salad.
That’s my dish. I like it very much. I like vegetables even more that I like fruits. I put a lot of vegetables in every dish, in every soup. I like your soup with carrots, with celery. My aunt here is cooking it and it’s very nice, very slimming.
N.M.: Can we go back to the borscht? Are there differences between regions?
M.K.: Yes, of course. For example, once, in Kyiv, I tasted borscht with smoked plums. Thanks to them it had a very nice, unusual smell.
N.M.: So it can also be a combination of vegetables and fruits?
M.K.: Yes, yes. And traditionally it’s made with meat, usually pork.
N.M.: But can you use any kind of meat? Pork, chicken, beef?
M.K.: Yes, any kind of meat.
N.M.: Can you use tulka, for example?
M.K.: Yes, in Dnepr they use fish. I don’t understand this dish. And they eat it cold. Dnepr is in eastern Ukraine, and I think the west uses plums.
And we also have a dish, a drink, called uzvar. It’s made from dry fruits. We tried to make it here, but we couldn’t find fruits. Here, in shops, you only have smoked fruits, not dry ones.
N.M.: Yes, we don’t use dry fruits.
M.K.: Yes, you can use some smoked fruits and, for example, a small portion of dry pears and plums, and you’ll have a very special dish. And sour cream. This dish, this drink called uzvar, we usually cook it for Christmas, which is on 7th of January. We celebrate it after the New Year. And you?
N.M.: We celebrate it on the 25th of December.
M.K.: Last year our government also made the 25th of December a holiday. So we had two Christmases. On Christmas we usually make traditional Ukrainian food. So, dumplings, pirozhki, what else? A very very old and traditional dish called kutia. Kutia is something like sweet porridge. It’s made with boiled wheat, chopped nuts, poppy and raisins.
N.M.: Is it a desert? Is it sweet?
M.K.: Yes, it’s sweet. And we eat it first. It’s the dish with which we start our Christmas dinner. Not everybody cooks it because it takes a long time. I cook it, because my mother made it and continuing to make it feels like family tradition. She taught me to cherish family traditions, so I try to do it.
N.M.: Do you measure when you cook, or do you just know the quantities from experience?
M.K.: I measure very rarely. I usually measure “by eye”, that’s what we call it. I also cook another very delicious desert, something like cheesecake, but using our white cheese, tvorog.
N.M.: Sweet cheese? Cow cheese?
M.K.: Sweet cheese. Yes, cow cheese. It’s sweet, you can add raisins, a slice of orange, something citric, then you bake it. It’s very delicious. I also cook it for Easter, because it’s a traditional Easter dish. But I also cook it the rest of the year. My husband loved it, and I wanted to bring him joy, so I made it many times.
N.M.: Very nice.
M.K.: So, I don’t know. I told you a lot of things. Maybe you have some questions?
N.M.: If you want to add something about your students, for example.
M.K.: Everybody is living in France, so they need to learn the language.
N.M.: So your students are Ukrainians who are now in France, and they need…
M.K.: Yes. They are mostly young people and their children who need to go to French schools. In Romania we are very free. We have a choice. For example, my son will continue his education online in his Ukrainian school. It will be better for him.
N.M.: In France, do they have to be enrolled in a public school?
M.K.: Yes. If they want to receive money from the government, they have to learn French, and also to go to a French school. In Germany the rules are even stricter. But, as I said, everyone made their choice. Romania is not such a rich country, but…
N.M.: Maybe when they chose to go there, they thought the same thing as you, that they would only be there for a few months.
M.K.: Yes, of course. Maybe they choose something more interesting. My choice was determined by the fact that I came to see my relatives, whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. And I knew that my grandaunt who lives here is very old, and I want to see her because of her age. Yes, she is 86 years now, and we don’t know how long she will be around.
N.M.: Do you have any plan for the next couple of weeks or months? Do you have any plans for the future?
M.K.: I want to maybe find something to keep me busy because I’m not working full-time online. My lessons don’t take a lot of time. In time some of my students will find jobs and they will treat our lessons less and less seriously. And Bogdan will be busy with school. And I need to process the loss of my husband. I’m a bit better today, but yesterday I was very, very… I thought to myself: what will you think of me with these puffy eyes? And I want to keep busy because I know that when my mother died it was my job that saved me.
N.M.: So this is your way of dealing with difficulties.
M.K.: Yes. This cooking project is a three-week project. It will be finished soon. I will be glad if I can continue to do it from time to time. I don’t know. We will see.
N.M.: Have you thought of changing your career? Or do you want to find something in the beauty industry?
M.K.: Yes, maybe. But I need to speak better English. Now I’m trying to learn it. To practice. Thanks to Romanians who speak English even in the kitchen, I have a chance to practice. The owner, Mihaela, speaks very good English, so she helps me. And another owner of the restaurant, Sergio, also speaks good English. They are not with us all day. They come from time to time.
N.M.: You can also watch TV, for example. Our movies are not dubbed, you know. And you can hear the language.
M.K.: Yes, yes. But you know, since I came here, I haven’t watched any TV. I didn’t want to.
N.M.: How come?
M.K.: I only read the news about Ukraine on my phone. I can’t do it. For example, my father used to watch TV every day, including in Romanian. So, for me, now, it’s not interesting. All my thoughts are focused on the future. I don’t know what to do in the future. Of course, I want to go back to Ukraine because my whole life is there. But when I think about my son, I realize I have to find something here. But I don’t know how to do it. We’ll see. When you don’t know what to do, you just live in the moment. And you wait for some sign, God will clarify the situation. So it’s beyond my power.
N.M.: Have you always had this connection with God?
M.K.: Not as much as now. But I think almost everyone is praying now, asking God to bring a positive end to this situation. And apologizing for not having prayed in a long time.
My son knows that God is good, we went to church every now and then, for religious holidays, for example. There are a lot of religious holidays, so we usually go to church, consecrate flowers with holy water, and bring them home.
For example, my husband died on a church holiday, thank God, because somehow it’s good when a person dies on a religious holiday. And the tradition is to consecrate flowers, dry flowers, and some special summer flowers. And you leave them for one year.
N.M.: In church or at home?
M.K.: At home. And it protects your home. And after a year, you bring them to the cemetery and leave them there.
N.M.: Thank you very much for sharing your story.
M.K.: Thank you! It feels like I visited a psychologist. It was also important for me. I needed this conversation.
N.M.: We both learned something. I admire you very much for being so strong.
M.K.: Yes. Something else happened. I wrote a letter to my husband. Because two days ago, at 10 o’clock, it was his funeral, and there were many things I wanted to say and didn’t get to. That I love him very much. We were together for 6 years. My friend advised me to do it. And when they went to the funeral, they put my letter there. And something happened after that. I stopped crying. So, maybe it helped me, I don’t know, maybe it changed something. But now I feel calm without any medicine.
N.M.: Mariia, do you think there is life after death?
M.K.: Yes. I believe it. Now I pray to God every day for him because I know that if things happened the way they did, it means he didn’t want to live. Something had gone wrong in his head, maybe. And I pray to God to… to…
N.M.: To help his soul?
M.K.: Yes. And to let him into Heaven. The most important thing for me now is his soul. And we will see.
N.M.: Do you also have this tradition of going to church 40 days after the funeral?
M.K.: Yes. For 40 days I will pray to God. I learned the prayer. And, of course, on days 9 and 40 we will go to church, we will have a service and we will bring some fruits for him and leave them in the church. The service is not for one person only, but for everyone who died in that family. Yes. It’s very, very important and useful for the family, for the generations in your family. It’s very important. I wanted and at the same time didn’t want to be there on the day of his funeral. For me, he didn’t die, he just disappeared. It’s easier for me this way.
N.M.: Not to have seen it.
M.K.: Yes. I have his photo and for now maybe it’s enough.
N.M.: When you came here, did you take anything of his, anything special?
M.K.: Of course. I told his aunt I wanted to have his unwashed T-shirt, with his smell. She began telling me about precious objects, but I said no, I want to have something that he liked very much. Everybody says to me: “You are strong, you are very strong, you will survive”. Frankly, I hate this, being strong. All my life… I don’t want to be strong, but life forces me. I knew how to survive the death of my dear mother, and my husband was like a second mother to me. He loved me so much and he…
N.M.: He took care of you, he protected you?
M.K.: Yes, very much, from morning to night. When I was ill, he was also ill because he was very empathic. He brought me lot of gifts, he did nice things for me. That’s why I feel like I lost my mother for the second time, because he loved me as mother. I don’t know how it can be, but when I was with him, I felt like a child. Maybe because he always thought something could happen to me, so he took care of me. So it’s double the pain. But I have a son and I have to continue my life.
N.M.: No other option.
N.M.: Thank you again!
Translation: Evghenia Jane Rozbitska
Proofreading: Cristina Chira, Alexandra Palconi-SitovPhoto credit: Mircea Sorin Albuțiu