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Gaza, Ukraine, Germany: From one home to another

Refugees from Ukraine are seen at a camp in Schwetzingen, Germany. (Supplied)
Refugees from Ukraine are seen at a camp in Schwetzingen, Germany. (Supplied)
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07 Apr 2022 03:04:49 GMT9
07 Apr 2022 03:04:49 GMT9
  • Palestinian neurosurgeon describes his family’s odyssey of displacement
  • “Kharkiv is something like a personal love story,” Dr. Mohab Mousa tells Arab News

David Kampmann

SCHWETZINGEN, Germany: Dr. Mohab Mousa, a Palestinian brain and neurosurgeon, lived and worked in Ukraine until the war forced him to flee. Now he and his family have taken refuge in Germany.   

More than 4 million people have fled Ukraine since the conflict began. Over 300,000 of them have arrived in Germany, many from the Middle East as Ukraine has a community of tens of thousands of people from the region.

Mousa, from Rafah in the Gaza Strip, has seen firsthand the horrors of war at home. As the situation in Gaza was unlikely to improve, he decided to leave.

“I wanted to improve my skills and provide a safe home for my wife and children,” he told Arab News. Mousa registered at the University of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine in 2016.

His wife and three children followed shortly afterward. His fourth child was born there and is a Ukrainian citizen.

Mousa learned Russian and started to work in the city of Kharkiv. Ukraine became his new home. “I like the country, but Kharkiv is something like a personal love story,” he said.

“The people are nice, there’s a large community of expats — basically everything in Kharkiv is beautiful.”

But the new world Mousa had escaped to has been turned upside down, something he said he did not expect even until the day before the conflict began.

“I was having coffee with a friend who asked me if there was going to be a war. I told him no.”

The very next day, the quarter where he lives on the outskirts of the city was hit by missiles. “I woke up my wife and children, and we fled to the school to find shelter there,” Mousa said.

As the situation deteriorated further every day, he and his wife decided to leave to protect the children.

They only took what they could carry and booked a train to the city of Lviv in western Ukraine.

They arrived after an exhausting trip that took 30 hours, but they were far from safety. Devious people who offered refugees a ride to Slovakia did not hesitate to exploit their needs.

“They charged foreigners 2,500 Ukrainian hryvnia ($85) instead of the regular 500,” Mousa said. With his children around and sub-zero temperatures at night, he accepted.

They managed to get to Bratislava, where “the stress the little ones had to suffer started to show,” he said.

Despite positive memories of people prepared to help, Mousa described the overall treatment of non-Ukrainian foreigners in Slovakia as “shameful.”

Despite guarantees by the EU that refugees coming from Ukraine could travel freely, an employee at Bratislava’s main railway station insisted that Mousa pay €77 ($84) for tickets because he is not Ukrainian.

“I asked her why? I had our residence permits from Ukraine and my youngest child is a Ukrainian citizen.” He had to pay regardless. “It was arbitrary.”  

The family’s odyssey was not over yet. After numerous stations, they finally arrived in the city of Karlsruhe in southwest Germany, where they registered and were given shelter, first in the town of Heidelberg and then in the town of Schwetzingen.  

Mousa said he did his best to hide the reality of war from his children — an almost impossible task.

His wish now is for them to resume their education and pursue outdoor activities. “They should start to learn German now so they can integrate more easily.” 

Although he has lived in Ukraine for six years, Mousa is determined to stay in Germany and practice his profession there.

To do that, he wants to learn German as quickly as possible, prove his qualifications and start to work. “An unproductive man is a burden to society.” 

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