A thick gray blanket surrounds Nina Senik, who is all dressed in black. A forty-year-old patient spent three hours in the Porte de Versailles, in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, at 4 °C in the company of her sister. Since Thursday, March 17, the exhibition center has reserved one of its halls to receive Ukrainian refugees expelled by the Russian invasion.
Nina’s children remained warm. “We must prevent them from getting sick” explains that Sister Svetlana settled in France for several years. The young woman accompanies him through the steps to receive European status of temporary protection, which will give him access to care,‘asylum seeker’s allowance and implementation of professional activities.
“She doesn’t sleep well, she’s not in the mood” breath Svetlanawho has been taking in her 17- and 13-year-old sisters and nephews for a week now. “She’s tired of it all, just tired.” At 9 am, the doors of the “hub” of the exhibition center begin to open. Nina, standing at the front of the line, will be able to pass in front of the offices of the Paris Prefecture today. This does not apply to everyone.
The capacity of the new collection point is limited and the queue is too long. Anna Strebkova, 19, and Katya Stepanova, 20, will not be able to return. They are handed a summons with an invitation to return later. “The fourth day we arrive at the reception point. Sometimes we sit for hours in the rain … It’s cold”– says the younger. The girl with flawlessly straightened hair was a student of microbiology in Kharkov before the start of the war. “I didn’t want to leave without my family, but my relatives asked me to take shelter.” It was on the way to exile that Anna and Katya crossed paths. Friendly love. Since then, students have not parted with each other and would like to be allocated housing together. “We are like kindred spirits”Anna says.
This sisterly unity, found during the war, is what 25-year-old Yulia Jakha, who only knows her boyfriend in Paris, lacks. “He is very supportive of me in this ordeal, she assures. But now I’m stuck here, I can’t go back to Ukraine.” There are indeed friends of her boyfriend, but the language barrier is quickly felt during the exchange.
A young Ukrainian woman still considers herself “privileged”. Lives in France since January. Julia did not hear the bombings and did not witness the scenes of the war. Before the invasion of the Russian army, the girl worked for the public organization VoxUkraine in the hope of fighting disinformation. So, since February 24, Yulia has been at the computer, while her husband is at work, trying to check the circulating information about the conflict. “It’s like a habit for me. Besides, I need to keep my mind busy.” She admits that exercise isn’t ideal for her mental health. “But I take breaks. Sometimes I go to the bakery to buy a lemon pie and it gets better.”
Like the hundred other Ukrainians waiting in the Porte de Versailles, she needs to sort things out with the administration. Having been in the territory for three months, she can no longer return home because of the war and hopes to receive the same European status of temporary protection.
This arbitration is carried out by the prefecture, which occupies a quarter of the Paris “hub”. The French Office for Immigration and Integration (Ofii) also issues an ADA card there, which gives access to benefits intended for asylum seekers. The rest of the building is managed by the non-governmental organization France Terre d’Asile and the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra), in collaboration with several associations, institutions and the City of Paris.
In this huge space, fenced off by removable walls, refugees are welcomed with sweet snacks and hot drinks. The interviews are organized by twenty employees of France Terre d’Asile in the company of a dozen volunteer translators to provide housing solutions. “Hub” also offers to accommodate about 500 people on cots on the territory, but only a few dozen places were filled during the night from Thursday to Friday.
In the corner of the “hub” there are colorful drawings on the walls. “These are just the ones that have accumulated since yesterday,” Marvels Aurélie, 39 years old. Working as an animator at the Paris City Hall, she volunteered to take care of the little ones while their families struggle to find a way out of a dangerous situation. “Some kids are stressedshe admits. Yesterday one of them, sitting on a chair, cried. He must be 12-13 years old. The elders have seen things, they understand what is happening.”
Next to them, refugees are waiting for tasks. France Terre d’asile, working with the prefectures, offers six destinations throughout France. Mostly hotels. Marisa, a French teacher in Ukraine, would like to live closer to Toulouse, where she the eldest daughter has been living since February 21. “She knew the war was coming and didn’t want to stay anymore.” explains 50 year old. But you can’t choose.
After “one night is too much”Marisa also decided to hit the road last week, accompanied by two other children: Anastasia, 16, and Sophie, 19. While the two sisters were in the entrance of their apartment in the center of Kyiv, shelling took place in the middle of the night. “There was an explosion, we jumped. The baby screamed. She screamed for me to come out and hide in the corridor, away from the windows. She was shaking all over”Marisa says.
“Before the explosion, Anastasia did not want to leave Kyiv, but it was too much for one night. We hid in the parking lot next to the house because we didn’t have a basement. nights in the parking lot. So we left.”Marisa, Ukrainian refugee
We had to cross Ukraine, Poland, then Germany before arriving in France. “We haven’t slept for two days”says Sophie, who keeps Nika, a small 11-year-old dog on a leash, also on the roads because of the war. The girl is looking forward to their provision of accommodation so that she can seek medical help. His diabetes was also the reason for their departure. “In Kyiv, there was no more insulin for me.” At 11 a.m., the verdict is handed down: the three women will board a bus that same day, bound for the Caen suburb of Normandy. “Cool, you’ll see, there’s a beach,” exclaims one of the volunteers. The trinity doesn’t answer. It’s really not the time to sunbathe.