‘Welcome to Berlin’: Ukrainian refugees pour into Germany

Ukrainian refugees have been arriving in Germany after fleeing the war. Berlin expects at least 20,000 people in the weeks ahead.

Refugees from Ukraine in Berlin's main station on March 1st.
Refugees from Ukraine in Berlin's main station on March 1st. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Paul Zinken

The loudspeaker announcement is nearly drowned out by the hubbub of passengers spilling out of the train from Warsaw, but it’s a message many of them have been longing to hear: “Dear passengers from Ukraine, welcome to Berlin!”

Just over a week after Russia launched an attack on Ukraine, the trickle of war refugees arriving in Germany has swelled into a steady stream.

“The situation has changed dramatically,” said Katja Kipping, senator for social affairs in the city state of Berlin.

READ ALSO: How Germany is preparing for an influx of Ukrainian refugees 

On Tuesday evening alone, 1,300 refugees arrived in the German capital by train.

Mayor Franziska Giffey expects Berlin, less than 100 kilometres from Ukraine’s western neighbour Poland, to take in at least 20,000 Ukrainians in the weeks ahead, and his city is urgently preparing emergency accommodation.

Germany’s interior ministry has officially registered more than 5,000 Ukrainian refugees so far. But given the absence of border checks between Poland and Germany the real number is likely higher.

At Berlin’s central train station, Ukrainian women and children make up the bulk of those arriving from Poland, having left behind husbands, fathers and sons to join the fight against the advance of Russian troops.

Among the newcomers is Nathalia Lypka, a German professor from the eastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia who fled with her 21-year-old daughter.


“We met up in Lviv,” she told AFP, resting on a wooden bench set up by volunteers in a corner of the vast railway station, one of Europe’s busiest.

“My daughter was in Kyiv, it was terrible, she was scared and had to take shelter in the metro station” to protect herself from the shelling, she says.

“My husband and son stayed… My husband already served in the army and he had to return to duty,” she adds.

Refugees from Ukraine arrive in Berlin on March 1st.

Refugees from Ukraine arrive in Berlin on March 1st. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Paul Zinken

Lypka and her daughter plan to board a train for Stuttgart next, where friends are waiting to take them in.

“We thank Europe for its support,” she adds.

Free tickets

Although the Ukrainian influx pales in comparison with the hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis who fled their conflict-torn countries for Germany in 2015-2016, the scenes of refugees being greeted by volunteer welcome committees are remarkably similar.

At the Berlin station, volunteers clad in yellow high-visibility jackets hand out bananas, bread rolls and water bottles to new arrivals.

READ ALSO: Hundreds of Ukrainians arrive in Berlin after fleeing war

Some carry stickers on their chests that say they speak Russian or Ukrainian. Others help bewildered newcomers plan onward journeys, making use of rail operator Deutsche Bahn’s offer of free travel for Ukrainians.

Nearby, volunteers folding blankets and clothes briefly pause to accept a German woman’s donation of anti-coronavirus face masks.

Elsewhere in the station, the Red Cross is on hand to administer first aid to the refugees, or arrange hospital transport for those requiring more serious care.

“A lot of people arrive here exhausted, they have headaches” and other pains, said Nicolas Schoenemann, who oversees a team of five Red Cross workers.

Among those coming from Ukraine are also a significant number of people originally from Africa.

Before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine was home to some 16,000 African students, according to Liubov Abravitova, the Ukrainian ambassador to South Africa.

Cameroonian Aurelien Kaze was studying economics in Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv, which has been hit by Russian shelling.

“We heard the bombardments, there was panic everywhere,” he says, waiting to board a train bound for Brussels where he has relatives.

The 25-year-old considers himself lucky to have had a smooth border crossing between Ukraine and Poland, following reports of racist behaviour by border guards against Africans.

Kaze said it appears to have gone “a little easier” for him than for some others. “They checked my papers,” he recalls, and he was waved through.

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.