Facing uncertain future, Ukrainians struggle to adapt in Germany

In her previous life in southern Ukraine, Tetiana Chepeliova was an accountant. In Berlin, she is unemployed, like the 16 other Ukrainian women with whom she is learning German in a course aimed at helping them integrate into society.

Facing uncertain future, Ukrainians struggle to adapt in Germany
German teacher Petra Schulte gives a German language lesson to Ukrainian women refugees in Berlin, Germany, on October 21, 2022. Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP

The 47-year-old is one of more than a million Ukrainians who have fled to Germany since Russia’s invasion in February. Among the European Union countries, only Poland has welcomed more.

The influx has put huge pressure on local authorities with Interior Minister Nancy Faeser recently describing the situation as “tense”.

But unlike in 2015, when huge protests stoked by the far-right erupted over the arrival of Syrians and Iraqis fleeing war, this time there have been few dissenting voices over the influx.

Instead, a key challenge is turning out to be the “major uncertainty” faced by the Ukrainians, said Benjamin Beckmann, who oversees integration programmes at Germany’s federal office for migration and refugees.

For many of them — mostly women and children — it remains an open question whether or not they will return to their homeland once the war is over, he added.

Qualifications not recognised

At a language school in a residential district of the German capital, Chepeliova is among a group of Ukrainians learning to navigate the German language.

When AFP visited, she was learning basic terms to express herself during a visit to the doctor.

The courses consist of three hours of classes a day, offered free to Ukrainians for nine months.

“The are extremely motivated,” said teacher Petra Schulte. But Schulte also senses the frustration of her class, which has just one male student. They include a mechanical engineer, a dentist, a doctor, nurses,
and a piano teacher.

“They have worked for years… and suddenly, their qualifications are not recognised, and they cannot practise” their professions, the teacher said.

Chepeliova fled the southern city of Kherson after it fell to the Russians in March. Today, she sees her future in Germany: “It is the best place for me. The country is super welcoming towards Ukrainians.”

Her 12-year-old son found German school difficult at first but “after spending a weekend with his class, it is as if a wall fell — he was no longer frightened of speaking German”.

Other women however want eventually to return to Ukraine, where they have left loved ones behind.

“None of them seem happy in the role of housewife,” observed Schulte, 63.

She even questioned sometimes why she was teaching them when they might end up returning home, she admitted.

For now, while the Ukrainians weigh up their future in Europe’s biggest economy, Schulte and others like her can only support them in their journey to adapt in Germany.

“The will to help has not weakened,” she said.

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Scholz urges Putin to withdraw troops for ‘diplomatic’ end to war

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday pressed Russia's President Vladimir Putin to seek a diplomatic solution to end his war in Ukraine, including troop withdrawals, Berlin said following a call between the two.

Scholz urges Putin to withdraw troops for 'diplomatic' end to war

“The chancellor urged the Russian president to come as quickly as possible to a diplomatic solution including the withdrawal of Russian troops,” according to the German leader’s spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.

During the one-hour call, Scholz “condemned in particular the Russian airstrikes against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and stressed Germany’s determination to support Ukraine in ensuring the defence capability against Russian aggression”.

On Russia’s end, Vladimir Putin told Scholz that Moscow’s attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure were “inevitable” and accused the West of pursuing “destructive” policies. 

“It was noted that the Russian Armed Forces had long refrained from precision missile strikes against certain targets on the territory of Ukraine,” the Kremlin said in a statement following the discussion. 

The leaders also discussed the issue of global food security, which is under pressure because of the war.

They also agreed to “remain in contact”, said Hebestreit.

Scholz and Putin have been in regular phone contact through the war.

The previous call between them took place in September and lasted 90 minutes, with Scholz then also urging Putin to “come to a diplomatic solution as possible, based on a ceasefire”.

‘Return to the pre-war peace order’

Despite his firm line on the war in Ukraine, the Chancellor drew sideways glances this week after telling the Berlin Security Conference there was a “willingness” to solve common security issues with Russia. 

“We can come back to a peace order that worked and make it safe again if there is a willingness in Russia to go back to this peace order,” Scholz said, according to reports by Times correspondent Oliver Moody. 

Scholz had prefaced his comments with a reference to Russia’s “imperialist” tendencies, which he said reflected the approach of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, “where a stronger country just thinks it can take the territory of a neighbour, understanding neighbours as just hinterland, and some place they can give rules to be followed.”

“That can never be accepted,” he added. 

He also blamed Russia for destroying the European peace order that countries had worked on “for decades”. 

Nevertheless, commentators accused the SPD politician of stubbornly sticking to Germany’s historical appeasement of Russia rather than recognising the realities of the present day. 

On Wednesday, German MPs also passed a motion to recognise the starvation of millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s under Russian dictator Joseph Stalin as ‘genocide’. 

Parliamentarians described the move as a “warning” to Russia as Ukraine faces a potential hunger crisis this winter due to Moscow’s invasion.

READ ALSO: Germany recognises Stalin famine in Ukraine as ‘genocide’