Children of no one: the citizens of Donetsk with a divided heart between Russia and Ukraine

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Vasylina and her son Feliks have not had a year of war behind them, but nine. They are part of the two million Ukrainians who lived in Donetsk in 2014 when pro-Russian militias, supported by the Vladimir Putin regime, declared the region’s independence and the Donbass war broke out. At the time, Feliks was 24 months old. “The first two years of the war were very hard. Later, the situation became more or less stable, less dangerous. It was dangerous on the border, but in the center it was more or less calm. Feliks grew up in the midst of the conflict as Europe looked the other way and his family awaited the end of a war that today still seems far away. Today he is eleven years old and he is a refugee. Like many others born in Donetsk, Vasylina has a hard time defining herself. She is “very proud” to be Ukrainian but her mother tongue is Russian and she has been raised in Soviet culture. And this duality alters her roots and gives her a somewhat stateless feeling. How exactly am I going to say if I feel more Ukrainian or if I feel more Russian? I am a person of the world who wants peace », she answers a question that is visibly uncomfortable for her. “Saying you are Ukrainian, you are Russian, you are Catholic or you are Orthodox always creates a conflict,” she settles. Vasylina declares herself in love with the Ukrainian “soul”, but this is not part of her childhood memories because the country was a Soviet republic then. “Ukrainian dance, songs, culture, traditions or food… I didn’t get to know them when I was little but when I was older,” she recalls. Harassment from other Ukrainians her great-grandparents, Bulgarians, emigrated to Donetsk attracted like so many other families by the growth of the city thanks to its industry and mines. There they settled. «I was born there. My family is from Donetsk, my father and grandparents were born there », she narrates. “But my ancestors learned Russian and it is the language of my family. I know Ukrainian but I have less ability to speak it.” And the rest of the citizens of Donetsk? “It depends on the family. But the majority speak Russian », she points out. Feliks, for his part, does not know how to speak the official language of the country in which he was born. The so-called independent government in Donetsk erased Ukrainian from schools, eliminated it as an official language, and Vasylina preferred not to teach it to him. «He tried to make her not feel like she was living at war, to lead as normal a life as possible, as if the conflict did not exist. It was my fault”. Standard Related News No Xi Jinping will visit Putin next week to promote a peace agreement for Ukraine Rafael M. Mañueco Amid suspicions about the shipment of Chinese weapons to Moscow, his visit points to an attempt to mediate in the war in Ukraine because then I could talk to Zelenski When this little boy arrived at the refugee center in Pozuelo de Alarcón (Madrid) last July after escaping from the bombings, he suffered bullying from other Ukrainian children. «They began to say that they were going to kill him, that he was the enemy and they called him a fascist. At lunch they threw bottles of water at him », his mother remembers bitterly. «Ukrainian, for him, is like a foreign language. He suffered and cried a lot because he couldn’t communicate with the other children. It was an added stress to the one he already brought from losing his home, his family, his grandparents, his friends… for having to flee without knowing where we were going to go or what was going to happen with his life » , relates Vasylina. The situation lasted about two months until little or little, mostly through games, communication began to make its way. “The other children began to see that he was not bad, that he was a normal boy and they began to respect him a little,” continues his mother. Later, a family from Madrid -María, Joaquín and her two children- welcomed them into their house in Torrelodones through the official aid program. Civil conflict And it is that together with the military conflict the Russian Federation has opened another civil one among the Ukrainians themselves. “When the war started I lost my job. I found another one in kyiv because he had many years of experience in tourism and the companies he knew helped me. I tried to look for a house… but from the first years of the war it was impossible because the people of central Ukraine were not kind to those of us from Donetsk”, recalls this refugee. «When you arrived and asked if you could rent an apartment, the price they gave you was very expensive. And not everyone wanted to see us work there », she adds sadly. “The situation was very complicated and my family and I decided to stay (in Donetsk).” “I tried to look for a house… but from the first years of the war it was impossible because the people of central Ukraine were not kind to those of us from Donetsk” Vasylina found a remote job that only required her to travel to Kiev once once every two or three weeks.But the routes were complicated. “The two governments made a border and you had to have permission to go to any city in Ukraine.” Covid made it worse. “Everything was closed. The borders were closed and you couldn’t get out. It was only possible to leave Donetsk through Russia, standing in very long queues of almost 36 hours, after a lot of complicated paperwork », he recalls. Tired of the conflict, she decided early last year that she would move to kyiv come spring. And suddenly the war entered a new, stronger and more dangerous phase. At first we had electricity but we only had water for one day, a few hours. And the prices of the products went up and up and up and up. There was almost no work, only in shops or jobs that depended on the government. No light at the end of the tunnel «In my city there was a volunteer fund, Food for life. We created a group on Instagram, on Facebook and we asked for help, donations to prepare food and distribute it. With war it is dangerous. Every day we had a plan and we went to a city to bring bread and hot food. A lot of people came who fled from other parts of Ukraine, we took care of a lot of people who came from Mariupol… they cried because they didn’t have light, water, food… or anything», she recounts with emotion. Vasilina Levitska and her son Feliks were refugees in a Spanish house for six months. GUILLERMO NAVARRO «You have to flee from the war and have faith. Spain has been a blessing» After leaving Donetsk via Russia, traveling to Georgia and from there to Spain, where they have stayed for six months, Vasylina and Feliks flew to Canada in January, where they now reside. Her message to her compatriots is encouragement and courage to abandon the war. “You do not have to be afraid. You have to have faith in people and in God, because they help », she advises. «It is difficult to have to ask for food, accommodation… but now I don’t think about myself, I think about my son». For this refugee, «Spain has been a blessing. It is impossible to find words to describe our gratitude to this country and the families they welcome, without knowing who they are going to help and without asking for anything. I think you have to have a very big heart », she thanks. Vasylina does not hesitate when asked what would happen if she approached someone Russian to ask for help. “How am I going to tell a person that I can’t give them a hot meal because I’m Russian?” she asks rhetorically. «She is a person who needs it and is hungry. Anyone in need deserves a piece of bread. There is suffering on both sides.” That fund continues to function today despite fire and cross bombing. Among others, Vasylina’s mother and her friends that she left behind in Donetsk remain as volunteers. Communication, for now, remains open. «Today my mother wrote to me saying that they have been distributing. Christmas was very sad because people have nothing ». At the moment, they manage to distribute “almost every day” although the risk is increasing. “It is very dangerous but my mother says that it is her decision. And that if she dies helping her it will be a dignified death », she explains. «I now see no light at the end of the tunnel. I only see a tunnel and a lot of dead people» At this point in the conflict, Vasylina is not sure what solution would be best. «Nobody knows anything. It is a complicated question and I prefer not to answer. I now do not see any light at the end of the tunnel. I just see a tunnel and a bunch of dead people,” she explains. “I want Ukraine as a country to grow, flourish, we have so many resources… this suffering is unbelievable.” The wish of this refugee, like that of all the others, is that the war ends as soon as possible to put an end to the suffering and death of the civilian population. “Kids and families who could be enjoying life… Every day I pray and ask God,” she stresses. Guilty for being safe Vasylina says that if it had been up to her she would have stayed in Donetsk but she decided to flee last July to save Feliks. “When I saw the bombs next to me, I understood that I had to get him out.” Her trip to Spain was an odyssey. The only way to leave Donetsk was to enter Russia, about 300 kilometers away, because the front is on the other side. «Going through Ukraine was very dangerous. It was certain death.” Feliks did not want to leave his house, even despite the proximity of the bombs. Why do I have to leave my grandparents, my friends and my toys? I want to stay », he told me she. Mother and son took a car to Russia and then to Georgia from where they could flee to any country. There Vasylina got help to get to Madrid by plane asking for help through an astrology account that she has on Instagram. «I began to write that I wanted to go to Spain and if someone could help me. They lent me tickets. We landed in Barajas on a Monday quite late.The Red Cross was closed and we began to call the emergency line. At first she was unable to contact anyone. «I thought we were going to spend the night on the street and I said to Feliks, you know what? The weather is good and we can wait here (on the ground). He told me that we couldn’t spend the night there.” Fortunately, it was not. “Thank God they helped me, they told me I could go to the center of Pozuelo and they took me to a hotel,” he continues. From there he began the processing of the documents and a temporary life in Spain that, despite the hard start, he remembers fondly. Especially the stay in the foster home. «Before, Feliks painted but he stopped doing it. He went back to painting when we came with the family. It has been a great opportunity. I will never forget this”. Vasylina wanted to save her son’s life and hers, but she feels bad about it. «My thoughts are in my house, with my mother and my friends… here there are no bombs, I have food, a house and people who support me. I feel bad for having this with the suffering in Ukraine. How am I going to be happy if my people suffer? ». For the moment, she tries not to think if one day she will be able to return to her country. «Feliks asks me every day. I only know that I want to return but that now it is not possible.

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