GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Nataliya Zaboychenko’s connection to home is through the friends who stayed behind after she and her mother fled Ukraine when the bombs began to drop.
That was three months ago.
“Some coffee shops are even open now because people are coming back to Kyiv, even though government is not wanting people in Kyiv because it puts them in danger, people still really want to go home,” Zaboychenko said during a Zoom call with News 8. “So Kyiv (is) starting to live like normal lives based on my best friend’s stories.”
The 20-year-old university student from Kyiv, who spent the 2017-2018 school year as an exchange student in Saranac, is now in Germany.
She’s now staying with a host family in Munich.
“They gave me a room and we kind of became friends. It’s a lady and her husband. So I’m really grateful for them,” Zaboychenko said.
She’s also grateful that her entire family is together. When the war began men under the age of 60 were required to stay in Ukraine to help in the war effort.
She and her mother had to leave her father behind.
He has since joined his wife and daughter in Germany.
“My dad has medical condition. So when he went to the army wanting to serve, they said he is too sick to serve. So he was given a white ticket. It’s a ticket that allows you to leave the country,” Zaboychenko said.
She continues working towards a degree through online classes. The war has been the subject of much of her studies.
“In the morning, I read the news about people dying in my country. Then I go and write psychology essay or like political assignments. And I have to give them to my professors and they grade it,” Zaboychenko said.
Life in Munich is much calmer: The air raid sirens don’t sound and the bombs don’t drop.
But it’s not home.
Zaboychenko plans on temporarily ending her war-driven exile soon.
She’s going home.
“Seeing the same trees, the same architecture, the same language will bring me some peace,” Zaboychenko said of the trip home.
But she’s worried too.
Part of her concern is bureaucratic. She wonders if her refugee status may make it difficult to return to Germany.
But the larger, more obvious concern is for her safety.
“The bombing can happen anytime that I’m in Ukraine,” Zaboychenko said. “I think I’m OK with it. But it’s easier to say you’re OK with it when you’re still in Germany. But when I go to Ukraine, I might feel different. I might be like, ‘Oh, I fooled myself.’ I’m actually scared.”
Her travel plans will take her by train and bus from Munich to Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine to surprise two close friends who stayed behind.
But her parents want her to continue to Kyiv and pack up the items they left behind in the middle of the night when they fled the war.
She’s still deciding on whether to take the more than 24 hour side trip to Kyiv. She’s not sure what to expect if she does go, both physically and emotionally.
“They want me to go through my apartment where I spent the last ten years of my life and see it all dusty and I’m not sure if our windows are fine because, when the bomb blasts, the windows broke,” Zaboychenko said. “I might have to see my apartment and my childhood bedroom. And I might have to pack it all and throw it away or leave it for some volunteering purposes. And that’s going to be like, destroying.”
For now, Zaboychenko plans on returning to Germany after her trip home.
She hasn’t decided what happens beyond her return.
Zaboychenko is convinced Ukrainian resolve will win the war with Russia.
But that’s someday.
Right now, she’s planning her life day by day.
“I’m allowed to stay here for two more years before I have to change my status or decide on something. At the moment, I’m just figuring out things here,” Zaboychenko said. “Maybe I will have a job. By that point I’ll know German. Maybe there will be no point in me coming back now because I’ve gone so far. But if it’s going to end in August, I might come back. I love Kyiv.”