Hundreds of Ukrainians arrive in Berlin after fleeing war

Exhausted, in shock and laden with heavy bags, the first groups of refugees fleeing Ukraine have arrived at Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

Ukrainian refugees Berlin Hauptbahnhof
Ukrainian refugees are greeted by helpers on their arrival in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

At Berlin central station, commuters rush past a mother and her four children as they stand bewildered on the platform, weighed down by heavy luggage.

Two of them, still toddlers, are wearing hats and jackets in blue and yellow, the colours of the flag of Ukraine, the country from where they have just fled.

Germany has opened its doors to refugees from Ukraine since Russia’s invasion of the country began last week, displacing more than half a million people already.

“We are going to Dresden (in eastern Germany). We have a good friend there who said he could find us a place to stay,” 17-year-old Ukrainian student Maxym Floria tells AFP.

Floria set off four days ago with his mother and younger brother from Izmail, in the Odessa region, and has travelled through Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland to get here.

“If Odessa fell we didn’t stand a chance, so we decided to leave with my family,” he said.

Only a relatively small number have made it to Germany so far: around 1,800, according to a spokesman for the interior ministry.

READ ALSO: EU warns bloc nations to brace for millions of Ukraine refugees

Men left behind

Floria’s father, like all men aged between 18 and 60, has not been allowed to leave Ukraine as he has been called up to fight.

The family are not intending to stay in Germany permanently.

“I firmly believe that we will be able to go home safely and that everyone will fight for our country,” Floria said, visibly emotional and exhausted.

Berlin is expecting to see a sharp increase in the number of women and children arriving from Ukraine in the coming days.

The German capital and the surrounding state of Brandenburg have already reactivated some of the systems deployed in 2015 to cope with an influx of refugees from the Middle East, mainly Iraq and Syria.

Ukraine is at least 700 kilometres (430 miles) from Berlin, but Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has repeatedly stressed that Germany’s borders are open to those fleeing the conflict.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the Ukraine crisis could impact Germany

Night train from Warsaw

The Russian invasion has provoked an outpouring of support in Germany, with more than 100,000 people joining a demonstration in Berlin on Sunday to show solidarity with Ukraine.

On Monday, an estimated 250,000 people took part in a protest against the war in Cologne in a sombre replacement for the city’s cancelled Carnival. 

Some have also taken to social media to organise initiatives to transport food and clothes to the Polish-Ukrainian border and to offer accommodation in Berlin.

The European Union is planning to grant Ukrainians fleeing the war the right to stay and work in the 27-nation bloc for up to three years.

Helper for Ukrainian refugees

A volunteer awaits Ukrainian refugees from Warsaw, Poland. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

At Berlin Hauptbahnhof, one of the largest stations in Europe, the situation is a far cry from 2015, when Germans welcomed cohorts of refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria by serving them soup and handing out toothbrushes.

On platform 14, police officers and volunteers draped in Ukrainian flags are there to welcome a handful of refugee families who have just arrived on the night train from Warsaw.

Berlin has already prepared 1,300 emergency beds for refugees and is planning to add 1,200 more in the coming days.

In Brandenburg, which borders Poland, accommodation is being readied for 10,000 people, regional interior minister Michael Stuebgen told the RBB broadcaster.

The authorities are also counting on support from the 330,000 Ukrainians or people of Ukrainian origin already living in Germany, many of whom still have family and friends back home.

By Yannick Pasquet

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.