Laila Keeling & Anjali Zyla

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I was born in Russia because my parents lived there, but I moved to Vietnam when I was three years old to live with my grandparents. I grew up there but returned to live with my parents in Ukraine when I was 18. In Ukraine, I went to university for five years and graduated with a degree in economics. After I graduated, I opened a stall at the market to sell clothes, which I ran by myself for five years until the war started.

It was a very difficult decision on whether to leave Ukraine. I had my stall and my life there. I hoped the war would end within a couple of days, but after it lasted five days with no sign of stopping, I spoke with some other people and decided to leave. The bombs had already begun to drop in our neighborhood. If we were to stay until after the war ended, it would be very bad. So, one morning I just woke up, packed my bags, and left. I traveled to Germany with my friend and her family. My friend and I met in Ukraine, where we were neighbors, but she’s also Vietnamese, so we had mutual friends in Vietnam. She arrived in Ukraine one year before me and also sold things at the same market that I did, so we decided to travel together. We chose to come to Berlin specifically because we found out online that there’s a large Vietnamese community here. All of my friends left around the same time, too, but they all left for different countries in Europe. My sister fled to Poland because she has a friend there. We speak pretty frequently, and she seems to be doing well.

My friend and I traveled to Germany by train and bus, through Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia, and then here. It was a little difficult to travel with her two children, but they were very good for the whole journey. Being in Berlin was stressful at first, but people were very helpful. We arrived at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, and there were many volunteers who would try to help and answer all of my questions. We didn’t know where we would stay, but I have a friend of a friend who lives in Berlin, so I called him and he told me what to do. We ended up staying in a refugee camp in Ludwigsfelde the first night, and then the social worker sent us here, to a new cam. We’ve only been here two months, but the home has been good so far. Everyone is very friendly. My friend’s children play with the other kids and are already going to school here. They like the school a lot and even have some German friends already. I’m very grateful for all the help we’ve received so far in Germany. I feel a little more settled into German life now.

All I really want right now is to learn German and find a job, that’s it. The Vietnamese community in Berlin has been very helpful for us. I’m taking a German class through a Vietnamese organization now, and I’ve already been offered some jobs to work with some friends I’ve met there. They have a lot of jobs available in the restaurant industry or other German companies, so I’m hoping to work once I learn some more German. Once I’ve saved some money, I’d like to move out of this home and get my own apartment.

We are basically just waiting for news about what will happen in Ukraine now. We want the war to end soon, but we don’t know if we will be able to return. I love Ukraine. It’s a very beautiful country. But the market that we both worked at was completely destroyed in a bombing, so we have nothing to return to. Maybe in Germany, there’s a chance for us.

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