Maryna (23)

August 10, 2022, Bratislava. 167th day of the war

My meeting with Maryna was a response to a request from an employee of the asylum center. She suspected that Maryna and her son had been repeatedly physically assaulted by Maryna's partner. Maryna neither confirmed nor denied it. She sat down on her bed opposite me. The fragile creature slowly began to tell her story. At times, I had to ask her repeatedly what she had said because her narrative sounded unbelievable. She had gone through a torturous journey, and I hope that at its end, she will find the peace and independence she desires. How much misfortune can fit into a 23-year-long life? And the war only complicated everything. In a foreign country, with a small child, without financial means. It is difficult to find someone who believes in you and whom you can trust.

"I am from Kyiv. I am an orphan. I lived with my grandparents and aunt. Approximately one week before the war, I moved to a village, away from the city, to live with other relatives, but the relationships there were quite complicated. I was looking for work and a caretaker for my son, so that I could focus on the future and become independent."

"On February 24, I went to Kyiv. I needed to pick up documents from my partner that I needed for my son. A driver who was a soldier gave me a ride to the city. After about half an hour, he told me that the war had started. I didn't understand it; I couldn't imagine it. Suddenly, there were many cars everywhere, and traffic jams formed. Sounds of sirens, explosions, long queues at gas stations. I called my partner's relatives. They told me not to come there, that there were street battles and houses were burning. They lived near Bucha and Irpin. I spent the night in the city and traveled back the next day. My partner's relatives called me and said that my uncle had fallen ill, and I needed to get medication for him. Everything in Kyiv was closed, and fear reigned in the city. I stopped in a town halfway where a pharmacy was still open. Some strange people got on the bus, and based on their accent, I figured out that they were Russians. They asked people for directions. It was obvious they were foreigners. The bus driver warned me not to say anything to them. I also saw them in the city, drawing strange markings on buildings. I saw one of them spraying something on a wall. When he saw me, he started laughing wildly and suddenly ran away. We were told that when we find such markings, we should remove or hide them so that the enemy couldn't orient themselves in the city."

"I decided that I had to leave Ukraine. My family disagreed. They wanted me to leave my son with them. I don't know which mother would leave her child where there is fighting. My journey began on the night of March 1st to 2nd when I hitchhiked to Kyiv, where I met my partner and his father. My partner is younger than me; he has a brother, but he stayed with his mother because he has a heart condition. We set out on the road to Slovakia. The journey was long and difficult, with confusion everywhere and a lot of traffic on the roads. We arrived in Vysne Nemecke, where we had to say goodbye to my partner's father, as they didn't let him cross the border. Myself, the child, and my partner crossed the border without any problems. My partner is only 15 years old; when I started dating him, I thought he was 21. It was a shock for me, but I decided to stay with him."

"The first night after arriving in Slovakia, we spent in a tent at the border. The next day, a certain family picked us up, saying they would take us in. I didn't have a good feeling about it, but my partner convinced me to go. They took us to the police station and helped us arrange all the necessary documents. We stayed with them for a few days. The first three days were fine. They took care of us, were really pleasant, but on the fourth day, they told us that Putin would punish anyone who accepted Ukrainian refugees, and we had to leave. They said they would try to continue helping us. They threw us out on the street, and we had to go back to the tent city. I was in shock; I couldn't sleep all night because of it. It was cold there. It was a big stress for both us and the little one; he has health problems. I tried to find a place where we could go. Volunteers told us we could pay for a hotel, which would cost 800-1000€ per month, but we didn't have that kind of money, or we could go to the Czech Republic. So, I checked if there would be any problem with having refugee status in Slovakia. They told us it would be fine. The next day, we traveled to Prague, where the administrative carousel started again. They asked me why we didn't stay in Slovakia, and I answered that there was no place for us there. Eventually, they granted us refugee status in the Czech Republic and accommodated us in an evacuation center. The rooms there were small, with crooked shelves on the walls, and one of them even fell on my partner. There were three toilets for the whole floor and a small kitchen for around 100 people. However, cooking wasn't possible because there was a constant queue of people arguing with each other. There was only one washing machine for everyone, and it cost 50 crowns for one wash, but we didn't have that money either. I was grateful for a roof over our heads, but it wasn't the place where we wanted to stay. On the bus to Prague, there was a woman from Zakarpattia traveling with us, and she advised us to go to Ceske Budejovice. I called her, and we agreed that her sister would come for us and take us from Budejovice. However, she didn't bring us to Budejovice but to a farm in Chotetice. It's a small settlement between Prague and Budejovice. We survived there for about a month and a half. The accommodation was nice and clean, but far from the city and even from a store. We had to take a bus to go grocery shopping if it was available, or walk for 2.5 hours. If I found a job there, I would have to travel for hours, and it would cost a lot of money. The situation was complicated, and the relationship with my partner significantly worsened. He started drinking a lot, was rude to me and my son. His character completely changed. However, I had to stay with him because he's not an adult, and I'm his guardian. I needed to find a new place where I could work and live in normal conditions. I called Oksana again, the woman from Zakarpattia. She accused me of being ungrateful, picky, and incapable. She was very unpleasant."

"Despite that, she came for us and took us to a hostel in Tyn nad Vltavou. The room was small, but we had everything we needed there. We were the only Ukrainians in the building, and honestly, we felt very good there. They promised to help us with registration and finding work. On Monday, some Czech women came to help us with the necessary documents. There were some issues with social support, but they helped us sort it out so that we could continue receiving money. Finally, they brought us to a center where there were about 200 Ukrainians. They told us they managed to arrange for us to stay permanently in this center. I was in shock. It was already late, and we had no way of getting back to the hostel, so I asked the volunteers to call there and let them know we wanted to come back in the morning. The next morning, we found out that we had to move out of the hostel, that they wouldn't accept us there anymore. I learned from the staff that no one called them, and our room was already occupied."

"Once again, I called Oksana, and she was very angry. She told us to go to Budejovice to the airport, to a refugee shelter. We went there and tried to arrange a new registration. They asked us for documents, and my partner exploded and became nervous. The volunteers asked him if he didn't trust them, and he, in a frenzy, said no. I started feeling that it wouldn't end well. It was already late afternoon, and they told us they wouldn't accept new people after 4 p.m. It made me angry, and I started arguing with them. It was getting dark outside, and it started raining. Eventually, they prepared a room for us, and we spent the night there. In the morning, we waited for the completion of the registration, but no one came to us. I started asking what was happening. It turned out that the police forgot to transfer our documents for verification. That's when everything started. The center's staff suddenly became unpleasant and stopped communicating with us. Then they told us that we had a problem, that we were abusing the system, and that we were fraudsters. According to them, we were supposed to receive money both in Slovakia and in the Czech Republic. There were also Russian-speaking employees who told us that such behavior could lead to imprisonment. I was scared, and I called Oksana again. She told me that the owner of the farm where we used to live complained about us, saying we were noisy and left a mess behind, and she heard the same from the hostel owner. I didn't know what to say to her, what to do. Suddenly, the center's employees brought us papers where I read that we had to leave the Czech Republic within six days, or we would be deported. It felt like a never-ending nightmare. However, I believed that justice must exist, so we went to Prague in an attempt to solve our problem."

"In Prague they were shocked by what happened. They told us it was the first time something like this had occurred, and if we wanted, we could try to resolve it with a lawyer. However, we didn't have the necessary money for that. The decision was already in effect, and we had to return to Slovakia. Most likely, the family we stayed with in the first few days continued receiving benefits for us even after we left, which caused us trouble. It was all too much for us. At that point, my partner exploded and started blaming me, saying that all of this was happening because of me. He even hit me and began choking me. I felt caught between two millstones. I had nowhere to go, and even the places where I was provided shelter were unsafe because of my partner."

"The volunteers helped me prepare for the journey back to Slovakia and found us accommodation in a small village near Kosice. One of the volunteers gave us food and 3,000 Czech crowns, which allowed me to survive for another three weeks. We felt good in the new place, but my partner's behavior became increasingly aggressive. He threatened me, and I couldn't imagine leaving my son with him and going to work. I complained to his parents, but I didn't succeed. After about a month, the volunteers told us that we had to leave because they could only accommodate new refugees while they sorted out their necessary documents and adjusted. They offered us other housing options, but since I didn't have money, I couldn't afford it. I couldn't work because I was afraid for my son's safety."

"They helped us find accommodation in Bratislava. My situation improved here. I live in a different place than my ex-partner, with whom I've separated, although I'm still officially his guardian. I'm content here. I don't want anything to do with Miso, my ex-partner. He reminds me of my son's father, who was also aggressive and involved in gambling. When I think about it, I haven't been lucky with my family. My father died when I was young, and my mother ran away from home. My grandparents gained custody of me through a legal process. They spoke ill of my mother, and when she came to see me, they did everything to drive her away. I remember that my grandmother once beat her with a stick. That was the last time I saw her. She ran away from home, covered in blood. They say she found another man who took her to Russia, and they are doing well. I couldn't go and live with them in the enemy country. Just like I don't want to live with Miso anymore. I'm not staying here; I'm going to Germany. I already have contacts there, and I hope I can find a good job and finally start living a normal life. I don't have my left hand, but back home, I worked as a waitress, a cook, and I made hand-sewn bags and other fashion items. I will certainly not lose my son. I want to give him a better childhood than I had!"