Safe in the West

ukrainian refuges in eu

In the west, we really enjoy the benefits of freedom, safety, and ingenuity. The internet continues to bring Western men seemingly endless possibilities for finding a loving partner. In my escape from the war in Ukraine, I had the chance to experience the way other nationalities in the region live. In Moldova, in those early days of March, the people didn’t seem very happy to have all of the Ukrainian refugees there. In Romania, people were very welcoming, and this was carried to another level in Denmark and Germany.

In early March we managed to escape through Moldova en route to Romania. We spent easily 27 hours waiting in a line of cars escaping the war in Ukraine. Tempers flared and the worst of some people came to a head with all the stress from such terrifying conditions. Airbnb rates jumped easily 10 times the usual price and hotels followed suit with unbelievable prices. In the USA there are laws that protect consumers against price gouging when there are national emergencies from disasters. This makes it impossible for prices to be marked up so high, but in Moldova, the business owners knew that people fleeing Ukraine had no real choice except to pay the high prices. Instead of helping, the prices remained high on everything. I personally saw very, very nice luxury sports cars in the line to leave Ukraine. Those car owners just stayed in Moldova whereas most Ukrainians would not be able to afford those high rates. On that note, I am from the USA and even I would not pay such prices. In Moldova, a nice Airbnb room was a maximum of $60 a night. At $60 a night in Odessa, you can rent just about the nicest room they have listed. Now after so many refugees fled Ukraine the prices in Moldova have skyrocketed. It was totally the opposite when we arrived in Romania though.

Romania was a late-night journey from the capital of Moldova. The bus station in Chișinău was pretty big, and not very centralized. It was a mix of fruit and vegetable vendors, bakers, a small food court, and souvenir shops but there was one main ticketing counter for all of the buses leaving from there. Buses are left at all hours of the day and night as well. Our bus was scheduled to leave at 10 p.m. on the night of the 4th. You may wonder why I remember this date so well, but that’s only because I remember the terrible events of March 5th. I will always remember that day. My then-partner and I lost our unborn son that day. Anyway, our bus was not super new and it was loaded with women and foreign men. There were 3 Ukrainian men that got questioned at the Moldova, Romania border. I guess they either had health issues, or disabilities of some sort, or maybe they even bribed their way out of Ukraine. I will get to that part later in this blog post. At the Romania border, we had to pass our passports forward to the border guard. It was a rather disorganized affair but then again I can’t imagine that they ever thought they would see so many people crossing the border in such a short period of time! The 2 younger Ukrainian men had just turned 18 and spoke pretty good English but the older man guessed to be age 35, was questioned for about 30 minutes, then placed back on the bus, and then taken back off the bus. I can only guess that maybe he was of military age or maybe he had a criminal record… who knows? My partner slept for most of the trip to Romania. I didn’t sleep well because of the poor seats. They were very uncomfortable! She fell asleep on my shoulder while I browsed the internet. Now I know there are 2 big bus stations in Bucharest but our bus arrived in an area pretty far away from our Airbnb. Rates in Bucharest were amazing and started at $19 a night.

Compared to how run down Moldova was, and the prices, Bucharest was a great deal. The situation being what it was, $19 to $40 was reasonable. There was no price gouging in Bucharest that I saw. We arrive on the morning of March 5th, took an Uber to our room, and rested for about 2 hours. Even with my partners’ health issues, we tried to stay in the state of mind that life would improve and that it was not in our hands, but in God’s hands instead. Soon after she woke up we went to the maternity hospital for emergency surgery. Our lives would never be the same and it’s a shame that I will always remember that date and the city in this way, this sad part of our journey. I left a large part of my heart and soul at that maternity hospital even though the people were for the most part very good to us. The Regina Maria health system had free services for all people fleeing Ukraine so Katya’s care was all free. Even with free services, the people there left such a great impression on me. When I go back I know that I have new friends waiting for me.

The decision was made that I would travel to Denmark for a while. After losing our unborn son in Bucharest I decided to travel ahead to Denmark. We had friends that had fled and they told us about the social benefits for my partner Katya. I went ahead and flew from Bucharest to Istanbul and then on to Copenhagen. Copenhagen had a BIG sign for Ukrainian refugees and for people like me. Those that had to flee Ukraine but were not native Ukrainians. I have a residence card, so I was eligible under Denmark law. I arrived at the airport, went to the help desk, and then hopped in the back of a police van with an end destination of Sandholm Red Cross refugee center. It was late at night but I was greeted with a fresh meal and a key to my new room. This refugee center was pretty nice although I have never been to ANY refugee center. I mean that it didn’t have tents blowing in the dusty wind. There were no barbed wire fences and it was a wide open area with the ability to come and go as we pleased. Most people there didn’t have the ability to leave because of their financial situation but still, we could leave if we wanted to. The room had a bunk bed, a large restroom with a shower, a table, an electric kettle, a mini-fridge, a closet for our clothes, and a microwave oven for reheating food. There was a big door at the back of the little apartment that connected to another apartment just like mine. The refugee center was not full and 2 people could live in each room. There was a doctor at the center, a large cafeteria, a library, and a computer room, and they even had bicycles and toys for the children there. I did see larger apartments for families with children. The Jehovahs Witnesses’ were everywhere we traveled!

They were at the Moldova, Romania border with hot soup and tea or coffee. When I was offering to teach at the camp one of my students was a Ukrainian man, age 68, and even in the camp he still tried to get me to download the Jehovah’s Witness app. Apologies ahead of time if this offends anyone but wow… even in a refugee situation some people still try to preach! The employees from the state Border guard were super helpful although they were a little shocked that an American would choose to be there. On the 3rd day there I was able to get a ride to a local market for some goodies. In total, I was at Sandholm for 5 days. There were lots of Arab men as well. Some had been at Sandholm for 14 months or more. I can see how someone could get comfortable in a nice place like Sandholm but it’s not meant to be a permanent solution. Danes were super nice, outgoing, and very generous. I was lucky enough to find an American that lived in Aarhus, Denmark. Melissa happens to be trained in crisis control and intervention. She’s been to Iraq and Syria and now happens to be married to a very sensible Dane. She finds homes or roommate situations for those in need in Aarhus. I left Sandholm at 6 in the morning for Copenhagen. The two places are maybe 20 minutes apart with a 3-hour train ride to Aarhus. Aarhus was a cool city with great infrastructure.

I was placed with a family that is 100% vegan and proud of it (like most vegans are). It seems like they are extra proud to tell us they are strong vegans. 🙂 Admittedly, Michael, the host I stayed with, offered to cook me anything I wanted, but I chose to eat as they did. That home was so nice and refreshing. It was 15 minutes from Aarhus in a little village called Melling. In all of my travels, I have to admit that this place had maybe the best energy of all. Even after the tragedy of losing our unborn son, something about that area gave off such incredible positive energy. The people in Melling were so nice. Everything in Denmark is made to work on your mobile phone. Your insurance, and any social benefits, as well as information about your health care, are digital and accessible by your mobile device. Germany was pretty close to the level of convenience that Denmark has. I will list social benefits for Ukrainians just in case anyone is reading this and wanted to know. The areas I traveled to all had different benefits for refugees, and here they are. This is open-source material and it’s effective as of October 1st, 2022 adults receive on average 55 kroner a day. That’s something close to $8 per day, plus food and housing benefits. There is also language integration for those interested. Payment is made in advance at the local community center or town hall. When I spoke to someone he very plainly said that he wanted to help, but that things were improving too fast to keep up. That’s a good thing for a Ukrainian citizen. Things were getting better. I was in Denmark as a special refugee #2, because my partner is Ukrainian, whereas a Ukrainian is #1 on the special rules.

Germany was different. It was busier than in Denmark. In both Denmark and in Germany officials really just wanted to give any person fleeing Ukraine essentials to sleep and eat. They seemed to pass the refugee on to another worker that then looks for a place to use the benefits the Ukrainian just received. After Denmark, I arrived in a 700-year-old villa outside Naumburg, Germany… near Leipzig. It looked and smelled old, yet beautiful. In Naumburg, the 35,000 residents still somehow made room for Ukrainians. There was an entire 10-story apartment building that housed nothing but refugees from the middle east. I don’t know if they were allowed to work or not but I saw hundreds of middle eastern men at all hours of the day. It seems like such a waste of manpower to not let people work. On the other hand, my Ukrainian friends all seemed to get placed in a home or hotel very fast. Personally, I spent 5 days in the hospital in Naumburg, so when they let me out of the hospital I was ready to go back to Romania. Ukrainians in Germany got free healthcare, free bus and train, and a bank account where their increased social benefits are deposited. That amount increases for 2023 by 50 euros to 502 euros. The increase is good for all people registered in Germany whether they are refugees or if they were receiving social services before the war in Ukraine. Disability payments and pensions also get a 50 euro increase. Overall it looks like prospects for employment in Germany are much higher than they were in Denmark. I found Denmark to be super expensive. Germany was not as bad but still expensive. The 7-hour train ride back to Bucharest.

In Romania, there were a lot more Ukrainians. It could be the cost of living or proximity to Ukraine. Transportation all over Europe was free when I used a Ukrainian D visa. All along the way, I was lucky enough to encounter people that just wanted to help. I did stay about 2 hours outside Bucharest near an old monastery for a week. It was a bed and breakfast and the owners opened a room to me. Eventually, I made it back to Bucharest where I stayed for another 3 weeks before flying home to the USA. Orange mobile was donating SIM cards and a limited amount of data or phone service to those fleeing Ukraine.

I left a lot of my heart in Bucharest and I have mixed feelings about that trip in particular. Losing an unborn child changed the way I live. I did see some beautiful sites in Bucharest but city life just made me miss Odessa really. When I look back on the events of 2022, so far things have not been the best even though I traveled from America, across northern Europe, and into central Europe. Love, travel, pregnancy, stress, war…

Love, travel, pregnancy, stress, and war. It seems like something from a bad dream, but it is really happening. The events of the past 8 months will never leave my memory. With that in mind, I’m sure that my former partner is having a hard time also. For me it was losing a child, but for her… it was carrying a living being… only to be told that you must end that life because it’s the humane thing to do. I have never said this and meant it but I genuinely would like to go back to this time period and do things in a different way. I would not change the part about the baby but I would do a better job at listening and understanding. I can only pray now that I will meet that soul one day, but for now I just hope to get right with the universe.


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Author: Andy Scoggins

Andrew has traveled extensively from his home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina having starting his journey through the former Soviet Union in Winter of 2012 to Novokuznetsk, then on to Ukraine's Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkov, and finally his second home, Odessa.  

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