Faces of Ukraine

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Maryna Piskovscay


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Fleeing the country separates her from her husband

Maryna Piscovskay is no stranger to war. Since 2014 there’s been shooting and fighting in her hometown Avdiivka in Donetsk. Russian separatists capture the small town in the Donbas in spring. In July 2014 it is liberated again by Ukrainian forces, but peace doesn’t return anymore. There’s renewed fighting in 2017. After that, it becomes somewhat more quiet.

The Piskovskay family finds ways to deal with the situation for a long time and go about their daily lives as best they can. Sometimes, when it gets too dangerous, they move to a nearby town temporarily, but Maryna stays on. She heads a department in a chemical plant. “I have responsibilities in my job, I can’t just leave here”, the 44-year-old explains. The chemical plant also offers shelter when there are attacks.

She even stays when a fire breaks out at the plant.

But in late February 2022, the horrors of war take on a new dimension. “Suddenly there were air strikes. That’s when I knew the war had started for real”, Maryna remembers after she has fled.

Initially, the family tries to find safety in Ukraine.

Maryna and her husband, their 25-year-old son, and 10-year-old daughter drive to Dnipro. It’s the fourth biggest town in Ukraine and is located further west, about 400 kilometres southeast of Kyiv.

For Maryna and her daughter, however, Dnipro is only a temporary solution. Even here the situation is uncertain. The war isn’t raging as badly here as in her home region, but because it is a destination for a lot of refugees, it’s extremely hard to find a place to live. Eventually, Maryna’s husband tells her: “get yourself to safety, leave the country.”

Maryna buys coach tickets for herself and her daughter. Their first destination is Warsaw, then Berlin and finally Wolfenbüttel. The whole journey takes 29 hours. “Everything stayed relatively calm”, she recounts.

She now shares a house in Wolfenbüttel with two other refugees and their children. She can’t see a future for herself here, though. “My husband and I have been married for 25 years. We belong together.”

“Half of me stayed in Ukraine.”

On the other hand, living in Avdiivka again is hardly an option for her. All their relatives have left the place, she explains. She only knows a handful of co-workers and can’t understand what keeps people in the town. “It’s in the middle of a war zone. There is no more power and your only chance to get food is to wait for volunteers to bring some.”

She doesn’t even know if the house they used to live in is still standing. She has seen social media posts claiming that most of Avdiivka has been destroyed.

Yet, hope prevails. Maryna says: “it’s difficult, but the citizens of Avdiivka love their town. Whenever something was destroyed, they kept rebuilding it. I can only assume that they are going to do that again when we have peace.”