[i] Hello [name] .

[r] Hello.

[i] My first question to you is: Do you miss your home?

[r] Yes, every day.

[i] What do you miss most?

[r] Everything: places, the feeling you have when you walk down the street, your language when you hear them on the street, people. You know this is where you belong. Sometimes, you don’t have that feeling, that feeling of loss. Now, when you ask me that question, it really comes down to it. I didn’t expect that, like this. I miss my home.

[i] How old were you when you left?

[r] It was… In May it was three years. Now it’s June. Three years, maybe it’s too soon. That’s why you still miss it so much. But… only three years.

[i] How long before you left Ukraine were you busy with the planning?

[r] It wasn’t planned, actually. Not at all, it just happened. Circumstances are like this. It’s a long one… I don’t know where to start. My life was very normal for me in Ukraine. I was just a girl. The only daughter in the family. I was a student. As an ordinary student, you go out with your friends, these things. One day we went to the club, the discotheque. We didn’t do that very often, maybe once every five months. To have fun. And at the club, I met someone. I was very much in love with him. And that changed my life. So… Since then, life became much more difficult for me. But happier. How can we say that? I met a man, he was not from Ukraine. He came from another country, even another continent. And I am from Ukraine. He came from Africa, from Sierra Leone. It was my first experience that I met such a different person. But something made me feel that this person could be very close to me. More intimate than my family, at that moment. After that everything started. Linus, he studied in Ukraine. As a foreign student, he also studied the Ukrainian language. Because he always intended to continue studying Accounting. So it was… We met in October 2012. He had just arrived in September. He had only been in Ukraine for one month. Everything was completely new to him: the climate, everything. We met at the club. We danced and talked all night long. It was very interesting. We are two totally different people. For me it wasn’t love at first sight. Not at all. For him, he says it was love at first sight. I can be proud of that. But for me, it was just… I liked him very much. He was very, I don’t know, intelligent. Not the way Ukrainian boys used to talk. Completely different. After we started communicating, we met again, and again and again. And then we started a relationship. That wasn’t easy because…. I didn’t think this relationship could bring me anything more than just a relationship for a while. Because I didn’t think that I could… He was a stranger, who came to study, I didn’t know much about him. What was his background? The culture is very different. But that was my rational thinking. My emotional thinking was totally different. When I was with him, everything else was gone. There was only me and him. I won’t be able to forget that feeling. Even now I still have that feeling. I am happy with that person. I grew up in a society that hardly accepts anything extraordinary. Something, like, I don’t know. It’s a very conservative society. The country, the people don’t travel much. They don’t experience any new things. They are a country, that’s how it is: black is black, black is bad, black is something underground. Something that cannot possibly be smart, intelligent or wise. We stay away from it. We don’t even try to accept it. People see it in a totally different way. They think that, we are the best, we are the highest… I don’t know, race, let’s say. That limits our and the people’s… Our… I don’t know. Intelligence, I think. It’s hard to explain. Because so many things have happened. I was, then at the club, I was with friends. They already knew that I had met Linus. They didn’t think this could be something serious, either? Because, when you meet someone at the club… Even at the club, how can you meet someone at the club? I never thought… I was aware of that too. But… Even after two weeks, we started going out. I said to Linus: Sorry, but I don’t want to go on. It can’t make us happy. In the right way, as I had learned. I don’t know how to say it. And for two weeks, we stopped. Those two weeks that we were apart, I thought of him every day. Later, he too. One day he called me again and said: [name] , I know it’s hard, it’s hard for you, it’s hard for me, too. But… Let’s try, just try! I always want to do things the right way! This is right. I learned like my mommy my grandfather, my dad: [name] , this is the right thing to do. There is nothing like back, left or right. There is only the right way. But at that moment I left all my rules behind me. And I followed my heart. That’s how we started again. We were only together. Usually we were -if Linus was in Ukraine- in the student house where he lived. Because the pressure of society was too great for him. And for me too. Ukrainian people believe that if a girl goes with a stranger, especially an Arab or someone from Africa, that girl is a prostitute. Thank God I am a strong person. I can recognise all these things, these stereotypes. I also broke my own stereotypes, because I too, I never expected that I would go out with someone like that. So even when we were walking on the street, the boys, Ukrainian men, they looked at me like a prostitute, they showed me very bad things. They said bad words, it wasn’t, it didn’t matter anymore. It is their problem, I think. Now! But at that moment you are under so much pressure, you are afraid to go out with your friend, to hold hands. It was not accepted. He was not accepted, yes. Because he came from another country. He is black! He was a nigger, yes, that’s what they call him. And so did I, I was not accepted in my own country because I chose a man who was not accepted. We had a wonderful time together, but it was inside. We couldn’t live like a normal couple, go out, go to a bar or the cinema. Because you’re facing total discrimination, like a woman. And your husband as a man with black skin. Our relationship started in October. We met in October, the relationship started a little later. 2012, Linus studied the language, there was discrimination, at the same time. So, later, he decided that he could not stay and live in Ukraine. So many incidents. He wanted to rent an apartment. He couldn’t because the landlord said no. He is black, he is dirty. I don’t want to rent out my clean apartment. When we go to the cinema, to see a movie, when there is a black one, people shout: There is a black one here! As we walk through the park, the men who drink beer, throw their glasses at his head. This… It’s difficult, but now I don’t feel any pain about it. I don’t feel any… I don’t even feel indignant anymore, because of the people who say these things. It’s just a pity that these things exist in the world. And you can’t live where you belong. You can’t make the choice you want because of what others say. Linus had to leave in the summer. He tried to… He wanted to go on, because we already had a beautiful relationship. On the other hand, he was not sure if it was possible to build a life in Ukraine. The family wasn’t happy either, with his choice.

[i] What was their reaction?

[r] My family knew nothing, until the moment I left Ukraine. So, it was… I left Ukraine in 2015. Since 2012, my family didn’t know that I was in a relationship. But Linus went back to Sierra Leone and the family was also against it because we also have a different religion. I am Christian, because I was born into a Christian family. I am not a practicing Christian. I believe in God, but I don’t go to church. I believe that there is a God. But I am not a… I don’t follow… the rules of the church. Linus, he was born into a Muslim family. That’s something totally different. Let’s say, contrary to our vision. Maybe not, totally opposite, because I think every religion has the same basic rules. Like, don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t steal. Love your loved ones. That is something moral that every religion has. It’s so built up in society, and also by politics, that it’s more business for me. The church and these things. So the family was totally against it. We have so much here, look! This girl, that girl for you. Why don’t you get married here? It was also nothing for him. So he stopped in Belgium. He tried to come back but he needed a lot of money to pay for his studies. The family did not want to support him anymore. His own money, which he had, had been used up. So he stopped in Belgium and applied for asylum. But without much success.

[i] How do you think your parents would have reacted if they had known? From Linus?

[r] Actually, they knew. I told them because, when he was in Belgium, I came to visit him, twice. The first time, we hadn’t seen each other for a year. Then I came to visit him, in the summer, it was a very nice time, for two weeks.

[i] When was the first time you came to Belgium? To visit Linus?

[r] It was… He left in 2010 and again in 2014. In the summer, a year after he left. And then, I arrived at the end of 2014, it was the beginning of 2015 when I became pregnant. I was very scared. I think he was scared too, but he gave me all the support. That was necessary at the time. Because, I went back to Ukraine after the second visit. I found out that I was pregnant. I was totally lost. I felt so much love for him. I understood that I was carrying the child of the man I loved so much. I didn’t have him by my side. The future was totally gone. Because I knew very well that my people would not accept me. We decided that I would have the baby. We didn’t know how it was going to turn out, in the future, but we were going to keep the baby. So it was January that I knew I had become pregnant. In early 2015, I came along and went back. So it was, April, I think, it was about four months. I decided to tell my mom.


[r] It was like, she sees me as someone she doesn’t know. I had a little hope that she would accept it. But, no. She had completely… She doesn’t understand. How can it happen, to me, to someone who grew up A good family! Now I’m pregnant with a black man. She forced me to have an abortion. That was very sad. I was under a lot of stress then, I was sick too. I had to take antibiotics, that’s why I told her. I had an infection because it was winter. And at that moment I told her that it is impossible for me to take the antibiotics because I am pregnant. It wasn’t in April that I told her. I told her before. We had decided with Linus that I had to come because I couldn’t possibly, I couldn’t possibly be happy there and the child needs a father. He wanted to keep the baby too. After all the fighting with my mother, my father found out, so much pressure. A black man Bad things happened to the family. And I felt so very guilty because I, I didn’t have, I wasn’t, I didn’t do what they expected. I had completely lost the expectation they had for the only daughter in the family. It made me feel like, maybe I did something wrong. At that moment, now that’s over. Communication is not so good at the moment. They know that we are together and that we have children. Two now. I hope one day things will go better. Because I love them, anyway. Only It happens sometimes, you know, life. At that moment, when I wanted to leave, it was difficult because I had lost all my papers. Because of all the stress about it, the problems with the doctor, the illness. I had a girlfriend. She knew someone who was used to travelling, illegally. That person gave me a passport. That passport had a visa. The picture was… They had a number of passports that they used. With a photo that looks like you. You can choose. So it was just a smuggler travelling with me. It was insane! I was already five months pregnant. It was May. You buy a one-way ticket without returning.

[i] Do you remember what you were wearing?

[i] What you had with you?

[r] Just… I remember it was a pair of jeans, but I don’t remember much more than that. I only had a little backpack on my back. Not much.

[i] How did you feel?

[r] I was sitting there, and I was just crying. I tried to be strong because, at that moment, those months, there was already too much stress for me. I was worried about the baby inside me. I felt like I wasn’t sure if I was making the right choice. I knew I was going to the man who loves me, the father of my next baby. But I had no guarantee for my future. I did have one in Ukraine. I was working and everything was okay for me. I was in my comfort zone, and I… I knew every day where to go, where to buy food, where to… How to live. And I sat there in that car with someone I don’t know. For me, the border was. I even thought they might send me back. Because the passport was not a real passport.

[i] And you arrived in Belgium?

[i] Did you arrive in Brussels?

[r] Yes, it was Brussels. I travelled, because Linus didn’t live in Brussels. I travelled by train. And we saw each other again.

[i] It wasn’t your first trip to Europe?

[r] No, no, no. For I… Even as a teenager, I travelled with my father. It was as if… It wasn’t so stressful, maybe. Because the language, because I speak English.

[i] Do you remember the first day you arrived? Did someone help you?


Yes, I was very lucky to have Linus here. He was already here. So I had someone who, who already, who can help me. I arrived on May 25.

[i] 2015?

[r] Yes. May 25. And on 26 May, I applied for asylum. When I stood in that queue, in front of the refugee office in Brussels, I felt… I never thought I would be in that line. I don’t know… I don’t like to ask for help. I don’t like to ask for something, I don’t like to beg for something. I have always, always wanted to be able to do things myself. We were in that line, with so many different people, so many different stories, and I didn’t feel very much at home in the way of life of those people, those people had it much worse than me, they came from countries at war. They had lost family who had died. I don’t know. I felt, I don’t belong here. But I knew I had no choice. Sometimes I even wanted to, I was standing in line, and I just wanted to walk away. Just gone? Where to? And…

[i] Did you bring a certain object? As a souvenir?

[r] No. I didn’t bring it. I only had some clothes with me, and my computer, with my pictures. Afterwards, my friends sent me some things. But at that moment, when I left, no. I always had with me, my friend had given it to me, a little statue of Jesus. It’s strange, I’m not such a religious person. But it’s always with me. Ordinary, symbolic.

Where did you stay? When you started the procedure?

[r] I was staying at the asylum center. When I saw the asylum center in Ukraine, when Crimea was still a part of Ukraine, we had a large sanatorium for the holidays on the coast. And when I saw this asylum centre, it looked exactly the same as that sanatorium in the Crimea on the coast. This was… I don’t know, the building looks the same. So I, I smiled, okay, something…

Where was it? Which city was it?

[r] It was in Antwerp, in the left bank, a red cross centre. I met the people, the social worker, they were friendly, I think. They tried to help you. They give you the room. But the room was very small. She was she was two meters by one and a half meters. There was a bed. And a washbasin to wash you, a mirror and a cupboard, an iron cupboard. They give you your bedding in a basket. Your plates and your cup, so you can eat. So it was just, this basket, always reminded me of a prison. This is yours, and you have to keep it with you. Thank God you can change it, if you want. When I tell you about this, I tell you with a smile. It doesn’t hurt anymore. Because if it succeeds, it doesn’t hurt anymore. But if you stay there, waiting for the result of your procedure, it is continuous, what will happen if it is negative? What are you going to do? How will you survive?

[i] How long did it take? How long did you stay there?

[r] I arrived in May 2015, in February 2016 I already had a positive decision. So it wasn’t… It didn’t take as long, as it can sometimes take, for me. For my husband, the procedure is still ongoing.

[i] And your first child was born in Belgium?


[r] Yes, she was born in Belgium. The birth went smoothly. Everything was fine medically. Everything went very well, she is healthy. It’s a good thing that even with all the stress I had during the pregnancy… She is a very strong girl. And she is, she is a hero! We lived in that little room. The three of us. Two beds even, how did we manage that? I don’t know. How did we manage to put a baby bed there as well? And all the baby’s things. Because it’s really small. Now we live in a two-bedroom apartment, I can’t imagine. In that room! I don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s funny, we were happy. We were together. We were really happy. Because we were together and that was what we wanted. And we didn’t have to be afraid anymore, to hold hands, to kiss, to say: this is my husband, this is my wife. No one… Maybe people are judging, but it’s not that direct judgment anymore. I can’t say that there is no racism in Belgium. No, it exists, but it is… in a different way. Most people, they are more open, I think. For newcomers. Maybe not so sincere, but they are, they are not afraid to sit next to you on the bus if you are a black man. We felt free, I think, in our relationship.

[i] Do you have a positive memory of the time you spent in the center.

[r] Positive? Yes, very much. For the baby was born there. So many, so many strangers, as if the whole world were greeting you because your child is born. Yes, the whole world, so many countries, so many nationalities. They are really happy for you. I don’t know. It’s unbelievable. Everyone had their own problem, but everyone counted down to your birth. When the day came very close, everyone asked: Not yet? Not yet? When? When? When? There was also a very nice moment when Linus got engaged to me. That was also in the asylum centre.

[i] What were the conditions in the centre like? The staff…

[r] Some of them were very friendly. But some wanted to suppress you, you’re nobody here. You have to follow the rules, and the rules apply to everyone. If you don’t follow the rules, I’ll make you feel like bullshit. There may have been two like that. Others let you, really tried to make you feel that you are human… Even, this is your situation now, everything will change. The circumstances, yes, the room is very small, you always need more space. The shower, the toilet, they were common. Sometimes you came across something there that you don’t want to encounter. But you had hot water, and think it’s important that you have a warm place to sleep. You can wash yourself. The food, they give you food. Yes, the food wasn’t, I don’t know, not the food I’m used to eating. Maybe even traditional, but, it was, I mean, it was… You’ll never have much trouble with my stomach or anything. Yes, it was the same every week, the same day, you know what you’re going to get. It’s a ritual. Wednesday was the favorite day because then it was chicken with fries. I remember them changing it once, I was very disappointed. It’s a kind of routine, it’s actually funny. I felt… I can’t say… I didn’t feel dirty or anything. I had my basics, at the time. Of course I had a lot more when I was in my country. But at that moment I was happy to be with my husband. And that my baby is safe, and everything is okay. Yes, it is. Yes, there were some rules that you have to follow, coming to eat at the right time. If you don’t arrive on time, then you don’t have any food. Unless you have a reason. Or something like that. It wasn’t so bad for me. If you wanted, you could do some small jobs. We cleaned the toilets. For me it was a bit, I never did. I studied at the university, I had my master’s degree. When I was cleaning the toilets, I felt that my social status was very low. But… I knew it was only temporary, so I let it go. Yes, you can never know what life has in store for you. Never say never. Now it is, I know that now.

[i] What did you study in Ukraine?

[r] I studied sociology.

[i] In which city were you born?

[r] In Lviv. In western Ukraine. It is the latter, the region is very close to the Polish border.

[i] Did you study in the same city?

[r] Yes, yes. It is a big city. It is like, say, in Ukraine Lviv is like Antwerp. A very big city. With a rich past as well. And also many strangers. But also very conservative. And very suspicious of newcomers. Especially when the colour of the skin or the religion is different.

[i] Is it easy to go to university in Ukraine? Do you have to take an exam?

[r] Actually, when I finished school, a new system was introduced. Everyone had to take an exam. It was different. Some exams: history, Ukrainian language, … It was like an independent exam. It was a new system without corruption. That system, at that time, I was lucky, to pass the exam. And I had good points so I got a scholarship. The university is one of the best in Ukraine. She is not so highly regarded in Europe of course but the university has a good reputation in Ukraine. I studied in the historical department, and that department also has sociology. What do you call that?

[i] Faculty.

[r] Faculty, yes. But, it is, it is, prestige, is, prestige was natural in management, marketing, economics. I never wanted to follow those directions. That was not for me. So sociology was the perfect option. I like to do it very much. The university is good, I learned a lot. I’m happy with my knowledge. But… The knowledge of society, what we learned, it was, everything was, theoretically. And after I finished college, I was really confronted with the things I had learned. Unfortunately, the practice comes a little later.

Well, Ukraine, Belgium. How do you see the cultural differences? What is most shocking in Belgium for you? Or the most reassuring?

[r] Let’s say, I don’t know how to say it, for Belgians, in my opinion, I’m not Belgian, I just talk about what I see, they always think that, you do not know, for example, do not know the basics. You do not know how to set the table, how to search on Google Maps, to go from A to B. They sometimes treat you like you’re illiterate. The first time, annoyed with it so hard: I know these things! Please! I know these things! It made me angry. But later, I just… They don’t know any better, just say thank you. Say thank you, or give an example from your life: Ah, we do the same! We are doing the same thing and maybe we are not in the European system, maybe our mentality is still very far from your open-minded way of life. But we have the basic one, just like you. That was… That was what pissed me off, especially during my first work. But… Comfort? Let’s say, yes, I felt free with my husband here. I wasn’t afraid to come out anymore. Hold each other’s hands. We will always, even now and always, get more attention than ordinary couples. Because we are a mixed couple. And people will always look at you more. But that won’t be a bad look here. I don’t feel the bad looks I had in Ukraine. Maybe they think something behind our backs, but… I don’t feel that way. And… The structure or organization of social life, the infrastructure, the transport system, the logic of life is more organized, let’s say. It’s more comfortable, perhaps. Maybe too strict for me, still. Because you have to follow all the rules according to from 1 to 10. You can eg do not skip 7 and 6. But maybe it’s better that way, because otherwise yes, that’s maybe why the level of life here is better. Something strange for me is that people always make an appointment here. You want to visit your grandmother, you want to visit your mother, you have to make an appointment. Minimum two weeks or one month in advance. Because everyone is busy in this world. You can’t go to your grandmother just to have a cup of tea, because I can always go to my grandmother. Even when she’s not at home, that’s no problem for me. Or maybe she has something, she’ll be happy to see me. She won’t be happy when I arrive, she will say: [name] , why didn’t you warn me, I had prepared food! It’s just… Yes. And there are so many appointments. Even with your friends. Like, I don’t know, maybe not for everyone, but what I experience at work, always appointments, appointments. Not just like that, I just come by, or something like that. That’s how it is for the Belgians. Strangers are easier at that, I think. But… Now everything is more or less arranged. You know the way, know how to live, where to go, where the bus stops, how to check it. But the first moments it was difficult, because everything was new. Thank God, here in Belgium, Flanders, many people speak English. You can communicate. But the language is still a big challenge. If you want to go outside the asylum centre, if you have received your positive advice, if you want to move on, start your life, you want your life to be on the same level as, let’s say, your intellectual level. With the social status you already had in your own country. That is sometimes very difficult to achieve. Especially the language, I think, is the first challenge and as a stranger. Because they will always see you as a stranger. Maybe it’s easier for me as a white woman because I’m not that different from the people on the street. But imagine, if you have a different color, like my husband, or you come from Asia or an Arabic country.

[i] Did you go to school to learn the language?

[r] Yes, yes. I started going to school When I arrived in May, the school was supposed to end in June so then I didn’t go to school. I was still pregnant so I just watched some videos on YouTube. After my daughter was born, about two months later, I started school. And I’m going to continue, yes, there’s one last part I have to finish. The school, it gives you a lot, they teach you a lot, you try to follow, you make exercises. You do everything very well. But, when you come out in an environment with native speakers, you understand that your school didn’t give you the knowledge to understand people. Because in different cities in this small country, everyone speaks dialect at their own pace. So it was a big challenge if you start in an environment where only native speakers speak. It was, oh my God, I had been in school for a year and a half and now I still don’t understand anything.

[i] Can you tell me, more specifically, in what context were you exposed to native speakers?


[r] Yes, yeah. You have the VDAB here in Belgium. They have special programmes for foreigners. Fortunately, I was able to follow one of these programmes. My social assistant at the VDAB, introduced me, it was like a contract for foreigners. So then you have an internship, in a company, it was like a social assistant for children, for girls with economic and social problems in the family. Between 14 and 16 years old. It was a kind of boarding school, let’s say, in this center for these children. And I first did my internship there, and then I worked there. Everything was there in Dutch. So there… because all my colleagues were native speakers of Dutch. I didn’t understand a thing! But it will come, because you have no other choice. You just have to… You just don’t have to understand anything, sometimes, later it just comes because…. Every day when you listen, you hear, it comes to your brain. There is no magic. You just have to be very patient. Sometimes I cried a lot. Because I didn’t understand anything. I wanted to say something. I had an idea, but that idea has already been dealt with because they have already said it before you are ready to formulate your sentences. So usually during the first few months I just stayed quiet. It was just listening. Especially during the meeting, the team meeting, 10 people discuss an object, you feel, you just want to go outside because you don’t understand anything! Yes, after a while!

[i] How was the dynamics, the relationship, between you and your colleagues?

[r] At first they were very friendly, when I joined them. They laughed at me, they tried to find out who I am. But, it was like there was a wall between us. I wasn’t one of them. They kept a distance, a great distance. The distance between them was small, just a metre, every day, but it was as if there were miles between us. I don’t know how to explain it. Even, even in the office, when they were talking about something, they always sent me back, because they knew I might not understand that much of the language. So it didn’t make sense for me to stand next to them and listen. One of them always tried to give me a job so I wouldn’t be with them. I am the type of person who will sometimes be too patient. So I just do what they wanted me to do. But later, when I was there about a year ago. When I left because I was pregnant with the second child. Then I was part of the system, so to speak. They accepted me, I was familiar with them, they understood that I am not a complete stranger, something like that. But it took a long time. For them, too. Maybe it’s just my experience. I am someone. I’m not going to open up easily to people I don’t know. So, these two factors, worked at the same time.

[i] What did you like about your work?

[r] Now, I say it so often, it’s only thanks to this job that I was able to learn and speak Dutch. It was a very important experience for me, because it was social work. And my studies are linked to it. So I now have an important experience in social work. It has given me a lot of knowledge and experience. And when I started working, a few months later, I feel like: Okay, I work here. I do something. Not even in my field of study: social work, sociology. I thought: Whew, I’m in the right place. I’m not a complete failure. I thought: Yes, you can have a normal life here. And that feeling is important. I don’t easily make friends at work. I don’t even have any contact anymore, right now, I don’t do the work anymore. It is not possible for me with two children, the night and the late shift.

[i] When you left the center, what was the hardest step you had to take? After all… If you get a positive answer, you begin to understand, that you only have a short period of time to find an apartment. To find an apartment. So you have to find an apartment. For it was difficult, a bit anyway, not so difficult. But of course, when you start calling, at that time, none of them spoke Dutch. So if you call and you immediately start talking in English, they will know right away that this is not someone from Belgium. This is like the first thing: Aha, this is not a Belgian. And then the next one: “I have no income.” The income is from the PCSW, under social assistance. So they say: Oh no, sorry. The landlord does not want someone from the PCSW. Oh no, the landlord doesn’t want someone with a child. So many phones were just rejected from the first words. Some of our social assistants help us, they call, they introduce us as responsible people, that we are decent. These things help. We found an apartment. It was a very nice apartment. It was a busy neighborhood but the apartment was new. We were very happy that we were lucky enough to find this. Later you start to understand that -now at this moment- you are under social help. Thanks to the CPAS, you have that amount: € 1100, you have to pay the rent, you have to pay bills, you have to feed yourself, your family, you have a child. You try to calculate how much money will be left for yourself. That is only, about, € 300 if you… Because our apartment was slightly more expensive, it was about € 650. So you know all the shops, all the prices, all the Arabic shops, all the cheap shops. And you are very happy if you find jobs not for € 1.30 but for € 0.99. Because that is 31 cents cheaper. At that moment you are lucky. Or if you see a good offer, 1 + 2 or 2 + 1. Or four avocados for, say, € 1. You have to decorate your house too. You have to buy furniture, you have to buy a bed, a chair to sit on, a table. And you want something beautiful, you want something solid that it is for you. It’s your new life. And what you like, can’t always pay for your wallet. You also get help, you get a starting amount. About € 1000 for the furniture. But that was soon gone with us. Because we had to buy a washing machine and more of these things. Some things, we bought a lot of second hand. But other things, like a mattress, such things, you want to buy new, because you want to be sure, and you have a child. But we are very happy to save as much as possible.

[i] When you decided to leave Ukraine, when you bought a one-way ticket, did you know what was going to happen? If you had a better idea, if you were free to choose, you had a better idea in mind. How different was this from the reality you realized?

[r] When I left, I had no imagination. I wasn’t what was going to happen. I want to say now that I am happy with what I have. Because these three years here in Belgium is so much more than when I lived in Ukraine in 23 years. In these three years so much more happened than when I lived my country. I wasn’t deported, I didn’t sleep under a tree, thank God. I can be happy about that. I have the chance to learn here, I can learn the language, I can have work. Of course there are so many things that are negative. You don’t have the same rights to a permanent contract when you get pregnant and blah blah blah. That’s so frustrating that you… You still have to work for one more month and then you get a permanent contract, but you don’t get it because you’re pregnant. I don’t know how legal that is. Just, sometimes I think, that everything that happened happened for a reason. You try to do your best, you have to try to do your best, and some circumstances you can’t predict. Sometimes you give life to things you can’t be ready for at that moment. But after a while you understand that the challenge life gives you was a lesson for you. It’s over now.

Mentally, your beliefs, what was the most helpful value you had, which helped you during all these difficulties? First and foremost, love. It may be comical or banal. But at that moment I came here because I had love here. Some people who never experience that feeling will not understand it. But one day, they will know. All these things, like, I think, just, patience. Don’t mind that there are some bad people trying to suppress you. Just ignore them, at times, like, for me like, when you’ve reached your limits, you can say something. Don’t let anyone suppress you, if that person doesn’t treat you well. Or something like that. And always try to be friendly. Even if that person doesn’t, she’ll laugh at you, but it’s not really meant. Later, she will rate you higher. That’s how it works for me. That’s how it works for me. I am not such an assertive person. My strengths lie in another area.

[i] You now have two children, they were born in Belgium. They will grow up in Belgium. What element of the culture of your place of birth do you want to give them? How does that work for you? You are from Ukraine, another culture, your children will grow up here. How do you see this combination?

[r] It’s hard for me, I think about it all the time. First and foremost, the language. Because, as soon as my daughter was born, and my son too, I speak in my own language, my mother tongue is Ukrainian, and it will always be my mother tongue. At home we speak English because my husband speaks English. At school, in kindergarten and on the street, it is Dutch. So for me it is first and foremost the language. It is difficult for the first child, for the daughter, to speak, because they are three languages. And she understands everything. But she mixes everything, and she can’t express herself yet. She is now 2 years old and 7, no 8 months old. She doesn’t talk like I did at that age. The children I know of this age already talk so much. I’m afraid, am I doing everything right? I don’t know, how can I help them more with the language? But about the culture, of course, I can’t give them that much about the Ukrainian culture because I don’t have the traditional way to celebrate Easter and Christmas here. I don’t think she will know these things. I try to make her familiar with many things. The food I cook, is something that, I still know how to prepare from Ukraine. Sometimes of course already mixed with Belgium or a pinch of African style. I will also try to familiarize her with the traditions of the holidays. At Easter we have the tradition of painting eggs. So we will. We sing carols, I sing them for her, but how intense it will be for her, I don’t know. Because now that she is starting to go to school, her surroundings will be mainly in Dutch. In the school they also learn more traditional, traditional Belgian holidays. So I just want to let her be a good person. Both of them. I will try to give them the best. So will my husband.

[i] For yourself, for your career, at the moment you are not working. How do you see your career? What ambition do you have for your career?

[r] When I was working as a social worker, I was very happy, as you know. I thought: Ah yes, this is something I studied for, and now I’m doing it. I felt good. But now I’ve stopped. Again, I’m faced with a choice. As always. What to do? I certainly don’t want to sit at home. And I certainly don’t want to stop what I’ve learned. I want to learn more. I thought maybe I’d change a bit on the logistics side, the administrative side. Because there is more, more room for me as a mother of two. Because the social work in the boarding school is in shifts. And also a very stressful job. I don’t think that’s something I want to do all my life. And on the other hand, I have a hobby I like to bake. But I’m afraid to do something with it. I have a very good friend who always encourages me. I want to make a real effort. Because it’s better to try and be sorry than not to try and be sorry. I don’t know, maybe one day I’ll become a baker business women. Or maybe I will combine two things: administration, logistics and baking as a hobby with some extra income. I don’t know yet. The idea is there, I just have to try. Don’t be afraid. But sometimes I’m too scared. Sometimes I think: Why am I afraid? If I’ve been able to do all these things in three years. Yeah, crazy.

[i] Normally, newcomers get an integration course. Have you taken it, too?

[r] Yes, I did. I took the express course. I don’t think it’s fair, because the express course is only for people with a higher degree. It only takes a month. It was good, the woman who gave the integration course, she was from Romania. She also spoke Russian. So that’s something I can understand very easily. Whether I learned a lot there, I don’t know if I can say that, that I learned a lot in that integration course. The kind of information, many of those things I already knew, because I also took a Dutch course, and in the Dutch lesson they also gave that information because everything was based on practical matters. Like, I don’t know, the health insurance, social affairs. But some of the information was new. So, let’s say it wasn’t that helpful, but it wasn’t that bad. But you have to do it, anyway, if you want to get your nationality in the future. Or something like that. I think it depends on teacher to teacher, group to group. It was fun, I think.

[i] Is it always easy for you to find the official information, the legal information? How do you normally find that information that you really need?

[r] In what domain?

[i] Every domain, for example, there is an organization that you can call and ask: I can’t do this rule, I don’t know how to take this action.

[r] Yes, if you are a stranger, you are confronted with such a lack of knowledge. You have so many questions, but you also have questions that you don’t know you have to ask to get the answer to. There are so many organizations, some of them really help you, but most of them, if they are volunteer organizations, that organization on paper, they can give you advice. They can show you a number of ways, how it can happen. Sometimes, you have a question that they say, you don’t know that you have that question. And if you don’t ask the question then they won’t tell you. They won’t tell you more than you ask. And this restricts you because your knowledge here is limited. So, you always have to frame your question a little bit. Sometimes, you meet very friendly people, who will tell you just because they know something, maybe it’s useful to you. They are really willing to give help and tell you what they know. Even if it is not necessary for you, they will tell you. But not everyone, and not everywhere. So sometimes, I needed certain information, I didn’t know that unless I come back within the year and the woman just told me you have the right to a subscription for half the price. I never knew that. And it was very useful because the income is not that big. For the health insurance, your husband can’t join because he doesn’t have any papers yet. And another man arranged it in five minutes, because we live together and he has two children. So we are a family. Why do they do it? Maybe they’re not professional enough or maybe they just don’t want to. I don’t know. I don’t know, but it happens sometimes.

[i] Do you have a big group of friends here?

[r] Not a big one, but a good one.

[i] Are they mainly Ukrainian or from your country?


[r] No, I think my best friend is from a completely different country and also from a completely different culture. She comes from Iran. I know a couple from Ukraine but we are not that good friends. I don’t know.

[i] Is it important for you to keep in touch with the Ukrainian community here?

[r] Sometimes I think it’s important to me. Because I want, even for my children, that they have an idea about the Ukrainian culture. And yet, three years here and I know fewer Ukrainians than I know strangers. I don’t know why. Because, at that integration course there were a couple of ladies, a lady, two ladies from Ukraine and they talked about… about children, society here, and everything was very negative. They talk in a negative way and I didn’t feel any connection at all. I didn’t feel the bond I needed at all. Maybe it wasn’t the right person. But… I don’t know if… Yeah, I don’t know.

[i] How could it help you to keep more contact with the Ukrainian community? What would be the advantage.

[r] I think the advantage in the first place is that you might be more integrated, even here in Belgium, they have more experience to find work, to start something up, to learn something. I don’t know. Some things, basic things. I think it helps. I didn’t have that.

[i] Are you a member of an organization or association as a volunteer? Or as a hobby, something that puts you in touch with the outside world?

[r] Ukrainian, you mean?

[i] No. In general, in Belgium.

Yes, there are a lot of things from my friend and I also have information from a social assistant, such as chat groups, certain activities, you can find on Facebook or the internet, via or you hear about it, you see, that way.

[i] And for the future? What is your dream? With your family, as a mother, as a person? As who you are?

[r] I want our story with the papers here to end completely. Everyone has the right to do something, especially for my husband. For myself, as a woman, I just want my children to be happy and healthy. It is fundamental, but important. That I have something that I can really feel happy to do. As I said with the work, it can be a combination of two or only one, baking or… I hope it will come soon. And of course, one day I would like to go back to Ukraine to visit. With my whole family. And I won’t be afraid anymore, I won’t be afraid to embrace my husband, and I’ll be proud of him, because I’m very proud.

You should be proud.

[r] That’s me.

[i] If you compare Ukraine with Belgium in terms of opportunities. Besides the freedom you have here, what would be the one thing you wish you could have here from Ukraine? Like, something you miss here.

[r] I think that… That’s hard to say. I miss everything here. But on the other hand, I also know why I left. I miss people, I miss talking Ukrainian, I miss hearing it in the bus. But I don’t know if I need it so much anymore.

[i] What about your social life? The community here in Belgium? Of course, you live here with your family. In terms of social relationships, do you sometimes miss that here in Belgium?

[r] Yes, I miss my friends very much. Especially my best friend. Every week I can, you know, I can go to grandmother, I can go to the other grandmother, I can go out with my friends, walk around the city. Sitting somewhere, drinking coffee or tea, I don’t know. You know where it is more, where you can have fun. Something like, if you just open your eyes when you wake up, then you just know where to go. You know everything that is closest to you with your eyes closed. So, social life, like friendships, is not like it was in Ukraine. I don’t know if that will ever happen. Yes, you miss your country anyway. Regardless of what was, what bad things happened there. You miss it because you were born there and because you grew up there. You are just here because something in your life changed your life for you.

[i] There are many people who migrate to Belgium. Do you see differences between different migrants, based on your experience? Yes, that feeling I had when I was queuing up to apply for asylum, because, I don’t want anyone to feel bad or anything like that, but I didn’t belong to that kind of people. I don’t want to, it’s not… There are so many different migrants. So many different people, nationalities, from countries, with such different levels of education, without education… I don’t know… I can’t say that I feel more connected to immigrants from Somali, for example, than to Belgian people. But I don’t want to say that all Belgians are better for me than all Somali people. After I left Ukraine, I understand that the problem with racism that we have, I don’t like to talk in general, because it restricts you so much. I always try to take the person into account because of her own personality. Not because she or he comes from somewhere. For me it’s better this way. Because, when you talk in general, it just gives you general knowledge. If you go deeper, you have more.

[i] Your experience of living at the center in such a large community, how many people were there?

[r] More than 300? So many different people. Yes, you meet the world there. After Ukraine, okay, I traveled a bit, so I knew that the world is not just Ukrainians. But still, when you have seen so many different nationalities, it seems like you are losing your identity. You’re not the only one, the world is different than in one country. The world contains so many countries. So many different nationalities. Way of dressing, way of eating, way of cooking, different smells. I don’t know, how to take care of children, how to take care of yourself, but you just try to respect each other. You just try to respect each other. Sometimes you find it annoying when someone eats with their hands, the food is everywhere. But you try, okay, this is their way of doing it. Sometimes it’s hard, because it doesn’t directly affect you, but you were raised in a different way, to eat with fork and spoon, for you it’s, wow! What can you do about it? You can’t change them. Is that even necessary, because, this is diversity. Sometimes it’s annoying. I never understand why beautiful Arab women cover themselves so hard. It’s their tradition, but they have so many beautiful women, they have very beautiful hair. Why when you didn’t? It is no sin to be beautiful. I don’t know. It is their choice. Or maybe it’s not their choice, but they follow this.

[i] [name] , four years ago, and [name] today, how do you compare the two?

[r] Four years ago, if someone had told me that I would live in Belgium, and would have two children by the time I was 26; I would say, What are you talking about? That will never happen! Have I changed a lot? I can’t say that I’ve changed a lot. Like, personality. I have become more patient and open to the diversity I encounter. I am stronger. Can cope better with the challenges of life. But still sometimes afraid to do new things. Yes, but I don’t think I’m more angry.

[i] Thank you very much, [name] , for telling us your story. I really appreciate it. I wish you all the beautiful things in the world.

Thank you, [name] . It was interesting for me, too. To analyze myself, it is always something new. Thank you very much.

Thank you very much.