Not That Far from Home
On International Women’s Day, I went to Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (central train station) to meet M., a young woman from Kharkiv, Ukraine.
As the first waves of refugees from Ukraine arrived in Berlin, the city’s volunteer organizations mobilized. They very quickly organized chat groups, Telegram channels and Facebook teams to set up a welcome and information center at Hauptbahnhof, arrange for accommodation, further transport to other cities, clothing, food, medical needs, pet needs, and needs tailored to LGBTQI and BIPOC groups.
One of the very first to jump to action for accommodation was the Facebook group Host A Sister, a group originally developed for solo female travelers to find safe accommodation as they explored the world. My niece alerted me to Host A Sister’s efforts, and I immediately added my name a spreadsheet with my contact details, type of accommodation available, how many people I could provide shelter to, and for how long.
Almost immediately, I received emails from the organizers looking for accommodations for families, mothers and children, small groups of people traveling together, and just as immediately other women able to host larger groups jumped to the chance to help. Eventually, I was matched with M., a third-year med student from Kharkiv, arriving on March 8.
M. had spent one or two nights in Poland, where receiving stations and camps were set up for evacuees. She arrives in Berlin with a camping backpack, a bedroll, and wearing snowboarding trousers and heavy boots. She tells me she had packed up very quickly on the evening of 27 February, prepared to sleep rough. She told me it took her 10 days to get to the border, a trip that would normally only take a few hours by car.
Her eagerness to pick up where her life was so cruelly interrupted, was something that most of the people arriving from Ukraine share.
We get her settled into my flat, with a bed and fresh bedsheets and blankets. She insists that she can just use her sleeping bag, not wanting to be a bother, telling me she will only stay as long as it takes her to find a job and her own flat…