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Three generations of Ukrainian women endure enduring exile in Austria


Feb 13, 2024

Irina, Marina and Katia – grandmother, mother and granddaughter – are originally from Mikolaiv, in southern Ukraine but have not lived in their city of origin since the war with Russia became so dangerous that it forced them to flee. Today they are facing exile together in Austria, where they try to integrate while hopes of a quick return fade in the face of the stalemate of the conflict.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 6 million Ukrainian exiles in Europe, an unprecedented wave since the Second World War. Most of them had planned to stay only a few months, but the bombings, the lack of progress on the front lines, the absence of a peace agreement, make their return increasingly unlikely.

In February, the port city where the three women come from was again the target of an attack that blew the roofs off many buildings. Their story is told by Anne Beade, AFP journalist.

“Ukraine’s future is so uncertain that I don’t see a way out for another year or two,” says Marina Troshchenko, 43, with a firm, determined expression as she shows photos of the damage, and rubble, sent by the remaining family members.

After months of difficulty in finding accommodation and rejected CVs, the three women finally found an apartment thanks to a job Marina found in a supermarket. Daughter Katia, 17, completed her studies remotely, attending a Viennese high school, with the aim of obtaining the Austrian high school diploma in 2025. Meanwhile, the eldest of the family, Irina Simonova, 64, dedicates herself to a volleyball team, her favorite sport, forming a circle of friends.

On the premises of the organization Diakonie, which advises around 80,000 Ukrainian refugees in Austria, a change is visible. Long paralyzed by the “dilemma of waiting” – to return or not – many “did not know how to move forward”, explains Sarah Brandstetter, operator of the centre. “Now there are many who have decided to stay and are trying to build their future here, especially for their children.”

The situation, however, is more complicated for women whose husbands are on the front lines. Volunteers distributing clothes and toys say they struggle to find time to find jobs and learn the language. Meanwhile, the wind of solidarity that blew at the beginning of the conflict has lost strength.

Christoph Riedl, migration and integration expert for Diakonie, also highlights the growing burden on Austrians who have agreed to make their homes temporarily available to refugees and see the situation dragging on over time. “Higher inflation and rising energy prices have changed things,” he says.

In neighboring Germany, which is hosting more than a million refugees, the massive influx is helping to saturate the reception capacity of municipalities. A situation that fuels anti-immigration discourse, at a time when the number of asylum seekers of other nationalities has skyrocketed. According to Riedl, the EU should define a permanent status for Ukrainians, who until March 2025 enjoy the title of temporary protection which allows them to access the job market, housing and social and medical assistance.

By Editor

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