Faced with an uncertain future, Ukrainians are struggling to assimilate in Germany

Faced with an uncertain future, Ukrainians are struggling to assimilate in Germany


In her previous life in southern Ukraine, Tetiana Chepeliova was an accountant.

She is unemployed in Berlin, like the 16 other Ukrainian women with whom she is learning German in an integration course.

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

The influx has put enormous pressure on local authorities, with Home Secretary Nancy Faeser recently describing the situation as “tense”.

But unlike 2015, when huge protests fueled by the far right erupted over the arrival of Syrians and Iraqis fleeing the war, this time there were few dissenting voices about the influx.

Instead, the “great insecurity” among Ukrainians turned out to be the main challenge, said Benjamin Beckmann, who is responsible for integration programs at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.

For many of them, especially women and children, it is still unclear whether they will return to their homeland after the end of the war, he added.

– Degrees not recognized –

At a language school in a residential area of ??the German capital, Chepeliova is part of a group of Ukrainians who are learning to get by in the German language.

When AFP visited her, she learned basic terms to express herself during a doctor’s visit.

The courses consist of three lessons per day, which are offered to Ukrainians free of charge for nine months.

“They are highly motivated,” says teacher Petra Schulte.

But Schulte also feels the frustration of her class, which only has one male student. These include a mechanical engineer, a dentist, a doctor, nurses and a piano teacher.

“They have been working for years … and suddenly their qualifications are not recognized and they cannot practice their profession,” said the teacher.

Chepeliova fled the southern city of Kherson after falling to the Russians in March. Today she sees her future in Germany: “This is the best place for me. The country is very hospitable to Ukrainians.”

Her 12-year-old son initially found the German school difficult, but “after a weekend with his class, it’s like a wall has come down – he wasn’t afraid to speak German anymore.”

However, other women eventually want to return to Ukraine, where they left their loved ones.

“None of them seems happy in the role of housewife,” observes Schulte, 63.

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

While the Ukrainians weigh up their future in Europe’s largest economy, Schulte and her ilk can only support them in their adjustment course in Germany for the time being.

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

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