AWhen Kateryna Kholodova woke up at 5 a.m. on February 24, her village Borshchova near Kharkiv was already occupied by Russian troops: quickly and without resistance. The tanks were lined up in front of their house and life stopped for a moment. A few hours later, the family with three daughters was completely cut off from the world – without water, electricity or a mobile network. However, the bombing raids in Borshchova only began at the end of March, when the Ukrainian military first tried to liberate the village. “We didn’t go out of the house anymore and stayed away from the windows,” says Kholodova.
The Russian troops lived in empty houses, and when there was nothing left to take, they burned them down. As more and more houses went up in flames, Kholodova decided to flee with her family and their two German shepherds. She snapped one last picture of her home before they drove off. Neighbors later said that ten minutes after their departure, Russian military vehicles drove into the yard.
From the Ukraine to the Hunsrück
Kholodova’s destination was Frankfurt, where a close family friend has lived for several years. “I will never forget the feeling when I first saw Ukrainian flags everywhere abroad,” she says. For two months they had no Internet connection, they knew nothing about European support, about all the measures taken for the refugees, that the colors of the Ukrainian flags could be seen all over the world. “It helped us overcome the pain.”
In Germany they found accommodation with a family in Kratzenburg in Rhineland-Palatinate, who were willing to take in the Ukrainian family with dogs. Living together and being supported has welded them together. “Even though we don’t live there anymore, we still visit her every Wednesday,” she says.
Kholodova does not need a German-Ukrainian translation, she understands everything and can answer fluently. She learned German at university 15 years ago and now tries every opportunity to brush up on her knowledge. “I knew from day one that I couldn’t afford to put my life on hold and just wait. Watching my children grow up and not knowing what the future holds for them.” She decided to use her time in Germany in such a way that she would have a choice when the war was over. To do everything possible so that she can stay here if the way back is blocked.
The war at home is always present
She has two university degrees in Ukraine: a law degree and a degree in teaching English. In recent years she has worked as an assessor for a judge, but it is almost impossible for her legal training to be recognized in Germany. That’s why she’s now focusing on languages. In addition to the integration course, she learns German independently for at least four hours a day. A new chapter has recently begun for her: as an English teacher, she teaches Ukrainian children at the Humboldt Gymnasium in Bad Homburg, where her three daughters also go to school. The girls were transferred to the regular classes at the beginning of the new school year. “This is our first small victory,” says Kholodova.