A Humanitarian Aid Volunteer from Germany Shares her Experience of Going to Ukraine
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Досвід волонтерів

August 11, 2023

A Humanitarian Aid Volunteer from Germany Shares her Experience of Going to Ukraine

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Nadia travelled from Munich in Germany to volunteer at Front Line Kitchen. In this interview, she shares her experiences of volunteering, her impressions of Ukraine and her determination to return in the future.

Hi, Nadia, tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, what do you do in your everyday life at home?

Hello, I’m Nadia, I’m 45 years old and I’m from Germany. I’m a lawyer by profession and I work for a big insurance company. 

Nadia peeling garlic at Front Line Kitchen in Lviv
Nadia at Front Line Kitchen in Lviv.
Why did you decide to support Ukraine? Do you have any personal connections with Ukraine?

Now I do, but before I decided to support Ukraine, I didn’t. It was just the right thing to do. We Germans did so many bad things in the past. I grew up during the Cold War on the German border. I just wanted to do the right thing as a German, as a human being. As I once read, you don’t need to be Ukrainian to support Ukraine, you just need to be human.

What motivated you to volunteer in Ukraine?

When the full-scale invasion had started, we donated a lot, we helped a lot in Munich with the refugees but it somehow didn’t feel enough. One evening, I had a very unpleasant experience with a guy from Serbia spouting the usual stuff that the pro-Russian people spout, saying Ukrainians are basically Russians and the Ukrainian language is basically Russian. I could not win the argument because I didn’t know in practice, so I started to learn the Ukrainian language and then I felt comfortable enough to come here and do something.

What do you most enjoy about volunteering with FLK?

Oh, how much time do we have! Someone put it like this: we have met more interesting people in the last three days than in seven years living in Munich because everyone has their own history, everyone has their own motivation but we share a common goal, which is to help Ukraine, to help with freedom, to help the free world sustain itself.

What did you know about Ukraine before and what has impressed you here the most?

I rapidly learned a lot about Ukraine after the full-scale invasion but obviously there is still a lot more to learn. What impressed me the most is how people go about their daily business, their stamina and how they just refuse to be cowed by that evil man in the Kremlin. 

Have you had any emotional challenges working as a volunteer and, if so, how have you overcome them? 

There are two types of emotional challenges. Obviously, one is the air raid alarms. When you come to Lviv, you know this can happen but when you come from a secure country like Germany, it’s abstract knowledge, so when the first alarms happened - and some very serious alarms happened - that was something else but I just looked at the locals, did what the locals did and refused to be cowed by the evil man in the Kremlin as well. An even more overwhelming experience is random people just talking to you in the street when they recognise you as a volunteer, saying thank you. What moved me the most was that they said that you Ukrainians have been fighting this fight for a long, long time now and often you have felt very, very alone. Now you know, by having volunteers from all over the world like me, that you are not alone. 

What are the rewards of volunteering at Front Line Kitchen?

Just having done something purposeful, having looked in the eyes of the soldiers who collect the items we do here. A couple of days ago, I was put on “tea duty”, as I call it, so I assembled herbal tea in the bags and sealed the bags. When we left, the first thirty bags of tea that we assembled that day were already on the way to the front line, picked up by a soldier who specifically asked for some herbal tea. That was something else!

Nadia peeling cabbage at Front Line Kitchen in Lviv
Nadia skillfully peels cabbage at Front Line Kitchen. Photo captured by photographer Christopher Pugmire Instagram: @pugmi.re
How important do you think language skills are for volunteers? Do you believe learning the local language is necessary to be an effective volunteer in Ukraine? 

I think language skills are very important in so far as you should have basic English, like “take this”, “put it there” and things like that because that is the most important stuff you need to know. Obviously, if you are able to speak a little more English, you’ll get by more easily, you’ll have more fun and you’ll have more interaction. You don’t need to know the local language, as I’ve experienced myself because I’m trying to learn it, but it’s so much more fun if you try to interact with, as they are called here, the boss-ladies, the babusias, the grandmothers because they love it that you try.

Personally, from me, huge respect to you because you are trying, you are learning and just with DuoLingo, you have made big progress. Well done!

Thank you! Дякую!

What is your favourite Ukrainian word or phrase?

Before I came here I would have said “бутерброд” (buterbrod: bread and butter) because this is a German word as well, I think meaning more or less the same, but I was told that that is basically from Russian so that is not my most favourite Ukrainian word any more. So, obviously as a volunteer in the kitchen, I like the word borsch very much. There is a very nice word for a lady, a true lady. There are a lot of very, very nice words. “Well done” is another one. Sometimes what I like is the feeling that you are not really learning a foreign language because so many words are the same as German or English, like “business” and then you learn “вчитель” (vchytelʹ: teacher). It’s like, what, how? Where do all the letters come from? Interestingly, I met a Croatian woman who said there is a very similar word in Croatian, so now I can speak Croatian - at least I can say “teacher!”

And what about food, what is your favourite Ukrainian food?

Everything! We’ve had such delicious meals here. Can I say borsch again? Yesterday I had salo, very thin strips of lard with a very good bread and some pickled cucumbers. Basically, I can’t say I’ve had anything that I did not like! That was another surprise, how good Ukraine cuisine is.

Package of Borsch prepared in Front Line Kitchen
Photo captured by photographer Christopher Pugmire Instagram: @pugmi.re showcasing a dehydrated package of borsch prepared at Front Line Kitchen.
Do you hope to return to Ukraine some time in the future?

I do not hope - I will! Me and my husband have to think about when. We came together to Ukraine. Because we have totally different work schedules, we have to somehow combine them, so I think we will come back in six or eight months.

What would you say to someone thinking of coming to volunteer in Ukraine? 

Just do it, go ahead and do it. Stop being German like me and trying to think several weeks ahead because that doesn’t work. If you stop thinking like that and overthinking things - I’m telling myself this every day - it’s just a great experience. Ukrainians are such great people. They’re so friendly and welcoming, so just grab a seat on a bus, board a train, whatever, just come here. Do it, show up, especially at the kitchen. Here at the kitchen, just show up, everyone will give you a very, very warm welcome, show you the ropes and there you are!

What memories of Ukraine will you take home with you?

Ooh, a lot! Maybe we can talk about that in half a year because I have so many impressions to process. It was so heart-warming, it was so hectic, it was so absurd, it was great fun, it was all these things at once. I am living proof that you can take both too many pictures and not enough. So I think I will sleep a lot when I am at home and let my brain do the rest.

Nadia, thank you so much for sharing your experience volunteering with Front Line Kitchen and thank you so much for supporting Ukraine. It’s really invaluable that so many people are helping Ukraine and that you leave your job, you just buy a ticket on a bus and come from your country, you think about us, about Ukraine and you just want to help, you just want to do everything for Ukraine, for victory. I hope we will see you again very soon.

We will see each other again very soon, thank you!

Ukrainian and German connection

If you would like to volunteer at Front Line Kitchen or learn more about other humanitarian aid volunteering opportunities, you can read about our partner organisations here.

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