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The pop musician flees with both of her children

Navka, a well-known pop musician and composer in Ukraine, is not surprised when the Russian forces attack Ukraine on February 24th. “The war already started in 2014”, she says. Back then, Russia occupied the Crimean Peninsula. She feels very patriotic. Her husband already fought against the Russian occupation in 2014/15.

When the conflict becomes more intense, the Ukrainian artist and her husband prepare for renewed attacks. They stock up on everything they need in an emergency.

Nevertheless, they are shocked when the invasion comes.

“We woke up and heard explosions”, she recounts. On social media, they see that a lot of towns have been hit by missiles and artillery fire. This new dimension of violence is something they didn’t see coming. She looks outside the window of her apartment and sees people load up their cars and leave. Navka and her husband, however, intend to stay. They’ve only prepared a way out for their nine-year-old son. A neighbour agreed to take him along when he leaves Kyiv.

Unfortunately, that plan comes to nothing. When they ask, there’s no more space in the neighbour’s car. That also thwarts her plans to join the civil defence efforts. The 34-year-old and her husband stay in Kyiv for the time being. A few days later her husband receives his conscription papers.

Navka prepares her son for any eventuality. She gives him a list of contacts to friends, acquaintances, and public institutions. Then they turn it into a game: “Where can you go?” Fortunately, they don’t get separated in the chaos of war. On the other hand, she hardly has time to say goodbye to her husband when he joins the forces. Then she leaves Kyiv. She and her son drive to relatives in Chernivtsi, close to the Romanian border, with whom their other 11-year-old son is already staying. Chernivtsi is already crowded with refugees. Her relatives have turned their coffee shop into a refugee shelter providing space for up to 50 people. From phone conversations, Navka learns about atrocities committed by Russian soldiers. Then the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia comes under attack. Friends from Portugal, Bulgaria, and the Braunschweig area contact her and offer to take them in. “But I wanted to stay here so I could help”, Navka explains.

Nevertheless, she’s beginning to doubt her decision. When a volunteer from Dresden offers to take her out of the country, she considers sending her children with him so they can at least be safe. “I think I had really made up my mind at that point, though”, she says in retrospect.

She stays a little longer, but starts packing. A few days later, when the German is ready for another trip to Dresden, she gets into the car with her children. Everything goes so fast that she doesn’t even have time to alert her husband. After traveling through Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, they eventually reach her friends in Veltheim near Braunschweig. Later, they find accommodation in the neighbouring village of Apelnstedt.

“It’s really hard”, she says: she was crying when she talked to her husband on the phone. “He’s cold and fighting in Ukraine, while I’m taking a hot bath.”

But a song can also be a weapon.

Navka supports the Ukrainian cause by singing. She performs all over Germany. The revenue of the concerts will go towards financing new vehicles for her husband’s unit.