They covered 2,200 kilometers in six days. Through Ukraine, Poland and Germany. Four of them sleep in the old Skoda. Well, sleep – as far as he went. Nina Spaudin, 41, and her husband, Roman, 47, continue to tell the story in broken English. Shows a snapshot of the safe blue Dutch Border sign in the dark. Tuesday evening late.
On Friday morning, February 25, the day after the Russian invasion, they decided: We leave here. Children 9 (first) and 6 (Roman). She said, “We don’t want to die, Mama.” Nina fights her tears, she says.
They grabbed what they could in their apartment. They don’t have much with them. Nina wears the same pants, jacket and sneakers on Monday as on Friday. The children have some toys and clothes.
Read also: More than 1.7 million people have fled Ukraine
They went to the west. From the Zaporizhzhya region in the southeast of Ukraine, fifty kilometers from the nuclear power plant (occupied by the Russians). Two days later, the authorities said that the men should remain behind to fight the Russians. Roman and Nina were already on their way by then.
And now, on Friday afternoon, they’re in the parking lot of the A&O hostel in Amsterdam-Zuidwest. Red Cross employees refused the journalists, but some Ukrainians and other refugees are standing outside. Sunrise. Nina is trembling, she is pale. She says she can hardly sleep. She was startled by every loud noise. Romain repeats under heavy pressure. He continues sighing.
Roman Jr. is elated, laughs and raises six fingers: This is his age. Her mother says that her first is older and realizes that this is not true. She can’t get a bite out of her throat. “They’re used to soup and chicken.”
the first ninety
They are among the first ninety Ukrainians to arrive in Amsterdam. There will be more Ukrainian cars on Monday. Roman uses license plates to indicate where they came from: Odessa, Kyiv. “Every corner of my country.” According to the Amsterdam municipality, there are already 130 Ukrainians in this hostel and 100 in a city hotel on Monday. In fact, they are among the lucky ones – people who immediately left Ukraine and who are not now in a bomb shelter or waiting in the cold at the border.
The Ukrainians in the hostel were told that they could stay as long as they wanted. “They say: You don’t have to apply for asylum.” Ukrainians are allowed to travel freely across EU countries for 90 days and were also allowed to stay in EU countries for a year last week.
Read also: Where is a place in the Netherlands for Ukrainian refugees?
The one-room hostel is mainly inhabited by Afghans, in total 550. They have been here since the fall of Kabul, August 2021. Afghan children play in the hall.
When they arrived at Ter Apel on Tuesday, they said: There is nowhere, sleep in your car. Nina: „Suddenly I started crying. We’ve been sleeping in the car for four nights already. We beat.” Go to Amsterdam, there’s a place there, that’s what they said. They did it on Wednesday. They’ve been here ever since. Safe and in a clean room with the four of us. That’s it. Breakfast is served at 10:00 am and dinner It’s 8:00 pm.
Why did they stay in the Netherlands? Nina: „We have an older daughter who is 22 years old. She studies in Groningen. When we ran away, we wanted to be close to our daughter.” Roman has been trying to call his parents for days. They live in Chernogiev, the city that was bombed. A video sent by his mother on Friday shows: fire, wreckage everywhere, corpses in the street. “Look, You dead, look what’s going on. I can’t reach them. I can’t reach them.” After that he didn’t speak to them again. Monday morning still no. He feared they were dead.
Nina and Roman do not want charity. They want a home and a job. Nina worked as an ophthalmologist and Roman as a manager – first at pharmaceuticalRetail, and then in real estate. Nina says they are well educated and used to hard work. “Please, let’s work. It doesn’t matter. We do everything.”
They have as much as possible hryvnia – Ukrainian currency – withdrawn the day before its departure. But this money, as they heard in the exchange office in Amsterdam, was no longer worth anything. “This is a paper,” said the employee to Roman. Just paper.
So they had nothing left. No work, no money. Just each other, children and an old Skoda. But they’re building a future here, that’s the plan. Work hard, learn Dutch, start over. Nina Spaudin: “Work, that’s what needs to be done. After that, everything will follow naturally. “
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on March 8, 2022
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of March 8, 2022