On World Refugee Day 2023, we’re sharing our community members’ stories. Read on to discover Kateryna’s journey and feelings around the word ‘refugee.’
Scroll down to see Jasmin’s story – this TWB Community member shares her experience moving away from home because of war at a young age, and how “everyone speaks their own language.”
Kateryna’s journey from Ukraine: about the word “refugee”
Kateryna Chepiuk, Ukrainian translator and TWB Community member shares her experience.
I’m a student of Germanic philology and translation. I combine my studies with volunteering for Ted, Gwara Media Group, a nonprofit organization of Ukrainian translators, “Invisible Frontier,” and TWB. I have a vast experience of translating and interpreting from subtitles to articles and texts of different origin. During these scary times I feel the need to participate in helping people, especially refugees with my translation skills. I am a refugee myself and I personally felt how valuable, important and necessary the help of volunteers can be.
The word “refugee” hasn’t settled with me for quite some time. Not when Russia attacked my country, Ukraine, on 24th of February. Not when we were clutching the emergency bags in the hallway, absolutely clueless where to go or hide in case of the bomb shelling. Not even when we were in a car heading somewhere West. I didn’t even think that I could be one – a refugee, even in the middle of the war. Me and my family were just trying to find a more or less safe place. The status as a refugee struck me painfully and unexpectedly when I received food from the volunteers. It was the middle of the night of the third day of our trip. We were stuck in the middle of the field in the queue to the Polish border among many other unfortunate victims of Russian abuse. The queue went on for kilometers without an end in sight.
By the time we got there we had run out of food and we were almost out of water. My dogs were slowly dying of dehydration because I had nothing but a cup of sparkling water they refused to drink. It was cold and I dozed off a couple of times but the red flashes of artillery on the black horizon kept me awake, along with the fear that we were the perfect target for the Russian army to strike from the sky a queue of thousands of refugees. A white minivan stopped on the side of the road. We saw that those were volunteers giving the food and hot drinks, though something in me twisted uncomfortably with the thought of taking this food I followed my mother. We were pretty late so we got a cabbage salad and a scone. I hadn’t eaten anything for more than 24 hours, I wasn’t starving, but I was hungry. A thought flashed through my head, “there is no coming back.” With the first bite of the scone the tears started rolling down my cheeks and I finally felt myself identifying with this terrifying word – the refugee.
June 20 is World Refugee day.
I was lucky to find a safe place in Poland but there are thousands of less fortunate people than me. People who are stuck in the occupied regions, left without shelter and have to constantly move as soon as they’re not welcome in their previous hideout anymore. The prejudice against refugees grows with the continuation of the military conflict, local people always forget that it could’ve easily been their home and that war doesn’t choose only the poor and the sick. Even after moving to safe territories, refugees are still in considerable danger from hate and discrimination crimes. These people are some of the most vulnerable to human and sex trafficking, work exploitation and profiling behaviour.
As a refugee, I was judged for being Ukrainian, for looking for a safe place, for receiving help and for purely existing. On this day, I appeal to you to remember that a “refugee” is just as much a human being as you are. That the tragedy of losing one’s home is one of the most terrifying things that can happen to a person and which leaves its mark on one’s heart forever. You can try to escape war physically, but you can never escape it mentally. And even when I’m on the streets of Warsaw I’m still on the battlefield on my land.
Only in love we are united; I know from my experience that kindness is the most powerful tool to fight for someone’s soul. I still remember the cherry cakes our old lady neighbour brought us as soon as she found out we are from Ukraine. We didn’t speak the same language and could barely say a couple of words to each other, but understood each other perfectly, through tears. And the pharmacy worker who gave my grandma glasses as a gift, when my grandma tried to buy a new pair after she dropped her old ones on the way to the Polish border. And the librarians in Bogatynia town, my first shelter, who were so kind to me and gave me a pile of books in English from the fair because I had to leave my library at home, and had been starved of books for months already. In the small refugee world, every kind gesture is a ray of sunlight that reminds one – you are a human being. And as cruel as strangers can be, they can be just as kind as well.
View on the streets of Poland, where Kateryna lives as a refugee.
Jasmin: “Everyone speaks their own language”
Jasmin Kreutzer, German and English translator and TWB Community member, shares her experience.
I learned about TWB two years ago, in July 2021, through a social media post about how one can get engaged in volunteering! Of all the volunteering opportunities I knew about, TWB was the most inspiring to join because it gives one access to gaining knowledge about humanitarian response and translation from anywhere in the world, and a range of language skills can be useful for it. I especially want to help projects relating to intercultural connections, such as organizations that work with people from various cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
Watch Jasmin talk about her experiences in this video:
I attend the Oxford Hub Language Exchanges, where no distinction is made between attendees who are refugees or those who are there for other reasons. But, for all of the attendees, one of the main reasons for attending is to work through barriers of information. Sometimes we help the attendees by doing role plays with them, such as going to a doctor’s appointment, as this helps them be prepared for situations they are not used to facing in English. Some of the attendees are children who go to school in the UK, and they enjoy demonstrating the new skills they have learnt (especially in English, but also in other subjects). A big part of the volunteering sessions is the creation of a social community, where events of personal importance are shared with each other, as it can be difficult to make friends and contacts with other UK residents because of the language barriers.
“We don’t know what language she is speaking either!”
I left Israel at the age of three and half together with my parents just after the second Lebanon War – from there we moved to Germany, which is where my father’s family lives (they are actually of Romanian origin, and migrated to Germany during the Romanian Dictatorship in 1974).
Because I was so young, my memories of the transition are limited and blurry. I mostly remember not understanding where my friends were and why we had to leave so suddenly. The only memory I have of the war was of waiting for my parents at my grandparents’ house while they went to pick up our belongings from the flat, which was in a war-torn territory. Once we were in Germany, I struggled at kindergarten, because I did not understand German at first. I spent a lot of time on my own, and the other children often laughed at me. One time the kindergarteners wanted to speak to my parents about the fact that I was always speaking Hebrew in kindergarten, but my parents said: “Sorry, that isn’t Hebrew. We don’t know what language she is speaking either!”
As my personal experience illustrates, language matters to me because it is one of the major tools through which we can communicate with others.
Not understanding a language the same way as others around one puts one at a disadvantage and makes one vulnerable. Language is not just about understanding foreign languages but also about being able to translate between everyone’s subjective experiences. If one thinks about the world through the lens of languages, one is much more attuned to the differences between every single individual and the fact that, to some extent, everyone speaks their own language or has their own meaning. The more we train language skills of all types, the more we can all get better at understanding each other and pursuing shared aims.
To learn more about the TWB Community and how you can get involved, visit our website.
Discover some of the ways our community members make an impact around the world in our blog.
Or visit the CLEAR Global blog to discover how language offers hope away from home for refugees.