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"My heart is there", Albanian refugees from Ukraine dream of freedom

"My heart is there", Albanian refugees from Ukraine dream of freedom

Two women from Ukraine of Albanian origin have been living in Germany as refugees from the war for about two years.

Speaking to Radio Free Europe, both say that they dream of the freedom of Ukraine, while they have created a life in Germany and are trying to establish connections with the Albanian community there.

A big bus with many scared Ukrainians is the last memory that Katarina Larina has of the place where she was born and raised.

On April 1, 2022, about a month after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, she managed to join the convoy of refugees leaving for other European countries.

For almost two years now, she has been living in the city of Erfurt, Germany.

Before the war, Katarina lived in the village of Karakurt in the Odesa region of southern Ukraine, where a large community of Albanian origin lives.

These Albanians are believed to have moved to Ukraine from the Korca area of ​​Albania and other areas of the Balkans, hundreds of years ago.

Most have preserved the Albanian language and traditions, albeit with a dialect different from the standard Albanian used today.

"I don't pronounce much", Katarina warns before starting the interview, hinting that "she doesn't understand much".

When [the war] started, on February 24th… [people] were very scared. I have a job here [in Germany]. I work in a pizzeria, we cook and I just learn German.

This 57-year-old woman says that she came to Germany with her 33-year-old daughter.

Her daughter, however, returned to Ukraine after a year as she wanted to be near her husband, who was not allowed to leave Ukraine due to martial law.

"I think, I think every day. I'm afraid for her (for the girl)," she says.

Katarina plans to stay in Germany for now until the end of the war, although she is homesick.

"My heart is there (in Ukraine)... Here is another world, there is another world. (There), I have a more open world, here more closed".


Katarina has been learning German for 10 months now. She started working in a pizzeria in her town, where she says she met two Albanians from Kosovo.

She says that she talks with them every day so that she can also practice the Albanian language.

When I told them that I am Albanian, they [were surprised]. "Katarina? You Albanian?". I told you: "I'm Albanian"... And, I asked them [how do you say the words], hudra-hudra, onion-onion... and such words, and they tell me: "Very well, you have kept your tongue ...". I say: "Okay".

The war in Ukraine has already claimed the lives of more than 10,000 civilians, while millions more have been displaced within and outside their country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the war a "special military operation" to demilitarize Ukraine.

The West has responded to Russia, hitting the economy of this country with harsh sanctions.

Even the region of Odesa, where Katarina comes from, has been hit by constant Russian attacks.

Nelli Syupyur, Katarina's compatriot, also of Albanian origin, has been living in Germany for two years.

She had fled at the start of the war in Ukraine, along with her then three-year-old son.

"The boy sometimes says: Mom, when we're going back to Ukraine, when we're going to Ukraine, I want to go to the sea," says Syupyur.

When she fled Ukraine, this professional dancer left more than her career behind.

Her husband, a retired soldier, stayed in Ukraine after rejoining the army on the front line.

Missing and fearing for her husband's safety in the war, Nelly stopped only at the beginning of 2024, when with special permission her husband managed to come to Germany.

"His mother was alone (in Ukraine) and she was very old and sick. He couldn't walk. The man took his mother and came to Germany", says Syupyur.

Nelli says that he will return to Ukraine when his mother does better and that she is prepared for that.

"(The meeting) was very emotional. The boy held his hand tightly. He used to tell him: "Dad, I will wake up tomorrow and you will not be here, you will go to war", Nelli confesses.

According to her, her husband has some health problems, but she is happy "that he is alive".

"I can say that I here understand that we have to do something, to have a Ukrainian victory, to end this war, to end this war".

Nelli has already slowly restarted her dancing career in Germany.

Her hostage, however, are the plans she had before the start of the war, to do projects related to Albanian culture and Albania.

Here I want to find Albanians, organizations, who can help me, to connect and raise a little the culture of Albania, to dance, to do something. It can be a small project. I [understand] that there is no funding for a big project for Albanian culture.

She has found contacts with several Albanian families in Germany, but says she wants to learn more Albanian.

"I don't have much practice (for the language). It is not easy to speak Albanian", says Nelli.

In the past, she lived for a short time in Albania, where her son, Ervin, was born.

Saturday, February 24, marks two years since Russia launched its unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently called on the US Congress to pass a $60 billion aid package for his country to defend against Russia's invading forces, saying "this is the cheaper alternative than the consequences of a Russian victory"./ REL

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