Stories from Ukraine #3: Mariia

This article was developed by Joana Purves, Thomas Leroux, and Emma Santanach.

As part of the European project “Ukraine Now”, which brings attention to the situation of people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, we sat down to talk with Mariia, to hear about her journey and experiences. 

Thirty-two year old Mariia is an artist from Shostka, a town in the northeastern Sumy region of Ukraine, near the Russian border. A few weeks after the start of the open invasion, she left her home and her family behind and arrived in Spain, where she now lives. This is her story.

When did you leave Ukraine? 

I left my home on April 13, 2022. From the beginning, I was sure I must stay with my family but even if I would like to move I couldn’t because my region was under occupation. In the first week of April, the army of Russia left our territory and the evacuation started becoming possible. I decided to try to move. My mom, father, and brother stayed at home because my brother was 18 years old, meaning that he had reached the military age and that he couldn’t leave the country. 

Do you remember how your first day was in Barcelona? 

My first day in this city was fantastic and terrible at the same time. I met my host family and I was in love with the house, language, and culture of these nice people. But I got robbed on the train to Barcelona and I lost my laptop and money. I was so stressed that I couldn’t even cry. 

And how were the first months? 

Amazing, everything was new, and I didn’t expect Barcelona to be so amazing. At the same time, I understood that learning a new language at the age of 32 is not so easy, my brain totally refuses this information… I didn’t have a cultural shock, I traveled a lot before, so actually I was ready for everything. 

How do you think that your age, gender, or ethnicity has shaped your life in Spain?

Hmm, I think yes, totally. I’m 32, this is the perfect age for the start of a new life, I have enough experience and at the same time, I understand reality. In Spain, I feel younger than I felt in Ukraine. I’m a young woman, I didn’t have any gender problems. 

How do you see your life now?

My life is good now and it was good in Ukraine. Everywhere you go you bring yourself with you. 

What are your thoughts regarding the future?

It is pretty complicated to think about the future because I had a basic idea to come back to Ukraine. But since I’m almost 1,5 years here I already met new friends, built new social connections, and started to learn Spanish and I see that my future is in between nowhere, between Ukraine and Spain. 

Do you feel connected to Ukraine? 

I have my family and friends in Ukraine so I call back home every day. The call with my mom every day is mandatory for me since I left my home. I’m connected with my friends in Ukraine and those who left Ukraine during this period. 

Have you found any Ukrainian community or interesting initiatives here?

Yes, sure! Ukrainian people are super active, so we participate in all possible events! And I’m very thankful to OCC and other organizations for the opportunities.

Ukraine Now aims to raise awareness across Europe about refugee movements after media coverage decreases, in order to develop new approaches to communication on migration and facilitate the inclusion of displaced people into local communities. It brings together four organisations at the European level: Mareena (Slovakia), ARCA (Romania), OCC (Greece), and OCC (Spain).

This project is co-funded by the European Union through Erasmus+.