Every Thursday at 11am sharp, five Ukrainian journalists begin their weekly meeting in the offices of Berlin-based daily newspaper Tagesspiegel.
For half an hour or so, these women catch up on the latest developments in their home country, discuss article ideas, and plan for the coming week.
Thanks to a no-strings-attached scholarship offered by Tagesspiegel after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they received enough money to get settled and live in Berlin for one year.
Despite there being no requirement to publish stories, all of the reporters have used their time in Germany to report on the realities of life in Ukraine. But they are also struggling with jarring moments of culture shock compared with the reality of their homeland
Before the war, Nadiia Kulish worked for a TV channel in Chernihiv, a northern city in Ukraine located between Russia, Belarus, and Kyiv. Since arriving almost a year ago, she has hosted a podcast about refugees on a German radio station as well as writing articles for Tagesspiegel.
“I believe that when the work is difficult and you step out of your comfort zone, only then do you have a good result,” she told i.
Now safe in Berlin, there are still jarring differences from her previous life. “I find it strange that on Sundays in Berlin, when supermarkets are closed, the lights are still on. My parents have the electricity on for four hours a day,” she said.
“It’s also hard for me to accept that someone buys so much food that they cannot eat and then throw it in the rubbish,” she adds. “Perhaps before the war I did not perceive it this way.”
The journey to her new life was far from easy. Ms Kulish woke on the morning of 24 February 2022 alongside her daughter to find herself on the front lines of war. Russian forces fired artillery at the city and there were strikes on residential buildings, hospitals, schools and kindergarten, she said.
“We were sitting in the basement all the time, about two hundred of us. There were babies and people in their 80s – the air raid siren almost never stopped during the day,” she says.
With food supplies running low, Ms Kulish went home to grab anything left to eat but as she got closer to her house she could hear the whistle of weapons and nearby houses were being hit by rocket strikes. “I was as afraid of dying of hunger as I was of the shelling,” she says.
She eventually found a car online and began the 130 kilometre journey to Kyiv with her daughter before heading to Poland and reaching Berlin on 3 March.
“We passed about 20 cars that had been hit by mines. I decided that if I had this one chance, I had to take it,” she said.
Ukraine is ‘impossible to defeat’
For Valeriia Semeniuk, the funding has allowed her to gain experience in foreign media and she has used her background at home to write across a range of topics.
“They could be stories of residents of the occupied territories, of volunteer soldiers, of a mother of a child who died before her eyes, or of an eyewitness to a missile attack. I’m very glad that the voices of ordinary Ukrainians were heard in this way,” Ms Semeniuk told i.
Germany has been notable among EU members for its reluctance to supply heavy weaponry to Ukraine. Earlier this year, it eventually agreed to allow the export of its Leopard 2 tanks to the country, lifting a veto that allowed other European nations to also free up their supplies. Whether the tanks will make it there in time for Russia’s reported spring offensive remains to be seen.
Ms Semeniuk understands and shares the frustration of many Ukrainians who wanted support to come quickly. “After all, every day of delayed arms deliveries means dozens, if not hundreds, of soldiers killed. This is especially troubling now that Russia is preparing for a major offensive,” she says.
But after living in Germany for a year, she feels she has begun to better understand the reasoning behind the initial reluctant in supplying arms.
“Whether we like it or not, that is how the Germans are, and their decision-making procedures are what they are. Germany is a reliable partner and without exaggeration the main European donor for Ukraine now.”
Despite the war having now moved into its second year, Ms Semeniuk said her mood has improved in comparison to the first weeks and months after Russia’s invasion.
“There is a confidence of victory that was not there before. Our nation is so consolidated and shows such strength of spirit that it seems to me impossible to defeat it. When we talk about the post-war future, we proceed from the certainty that the victory will be for Ukraine,” she said.