A new Start in Odessa

by Judith Vöcker, Jesse Lillefjeld, Jonas Eichhorn

The flight of Irina D. and Yuri V. ended in September with their arrival in Odessa, the city that will be their new home. They had to leave their home of Snežnoe in the Donetsk Oblast. Irina and Yuri are both highly qualified engineers who specialized in the coal mining industry in the Donetsk basin. Yuri had created and implemented a program that selectively sorted out the valuable anthracite from other lesser materials such as coal and peat; Irina directed an administrative section of the firm. They left their home over a year and a half ago, shortly after it had fell into the hands of the Separatists to a town nearby outside of the Separatist held territory.

To find a job working as a coal-mining engineer within the coastal Oblast of Odessa is more than challenging. There simply aren’t any coalmines in the Oblast. Both Irina and Yuri have worked their whole lives in the mining industry, but they are wiling to retrain and to learn a new profession. The idea of going to Russia to find work and live doesn’t even come into question – they are Ukrainians. Yuri points out with a firm plant of the palm on the table, and they want to live and work in their homeland. Beyond the Ural Mountains in Russia there is a large mining industry with plenty of work and job opportunities, but this is simply too far away from home. So despite the difficulties, they have decided to call Odessa their new home, for good. The decision did not come easy for them, but with the current political situation going back is out of the question. The sudden polarization amongst erstwhile friendly neighbors was too difficult for them to bear. Irina’s voice was tinged with disappointment as she talked about those in her community who suddenly took to the cause and welcomed and cheered on the Separatist and Russian soldiers. When the fighting broke out they sat with the same neighbors in the cellar for four days, as the Russians and Separatists shot at any movement regardless if it was a man, woman, or child. The Ukrainian military and the volunteer battalions did just the same as the fighting ensued. 

Looking for a new life: Irina and Yuri

They both described the Donbas as a multicultural place, that up until recently was a place where people from various cultural backgrounds coexisted peacefully. There were several languages spoken in the workplace and it created a colorful and dynamic workplace. Today this situation is unthinkable, where extreme political views and conspiracy theories are making their rounds. The era of coexisting cultural groups in the Donbas is now a memory. Their hometown of Snežnoe lies along the route H2, a crucial supply route between Russia and the city of Donetsk. Here they were eyewitnesses to countless columns of military equipment of all sort, tanks, self-propelled artillery, APCs, field kitchen, supply trucks, and anti-aircraft systems. Yuri commented, no license plates, no tactical markings, no names or ranks or national insignia on their uniforms. When leaving the area they were stopped several times at military checkpoints where they were asked to show their documents. They were asked by men with thick Russian accents, which wasn’t too out of the ordinary for region, but Irina noted that it was curious that they could not understand their identification documents, as they are in Ukrainian. It was simple; they weren’t from the Ukraine at all.

Despite having fled their home, they still keep in contact with their friends and contacts in the Donbas. Yuri himself keeps in regular touch with his former colleagues from the mining company. One even informed him that the condition of the mine is still intact and with some maintenance and work it could be put back into production. However Yuri finds this highly dubious, as most of the workers have fled the Separatist held area and only a few remained behind.

Their younger son has come with them to Odessa and has begun to study at the Polytechnic Institute – the elder is still in Donetsk, but plans to follow suit and leave soon as well. In Odessa they are living off of their savings, and they hope to soon get some assistance from the government. They amazed us with their determination, and their combined strength to start a new life here without any outside help so far from either the state or the city of Odessa. They have nothing but good things to say about their arrival here and their reception by the locals. It was inspiring to see how Irina and Yuri have dealt with their situation. Despite all of the trials and tribulations, one can be confident that their new life in Odessa will be a success.

Ein Gedanke zu “A new Start in Odessa

  1. Pingback: Der Ukraine-Konflikt – ein Generationskonflikt? | viadrina goes ukraine

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