“Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go but rather learning to start over.”
― Nicole Sobon, Program 13
Much as living with others and sharing living space grates on my nerves and core, I’ve met people with the most fascinating lifestories. The latest guests to move in are two musicians who fled Urkraine soon after the Russian invasion. The young woman, whom I shall call Eva, went into hiding in a bunker with her mother and younger relatives, terrified for their lives and the other family members. They had no idea whether they would live to see the dawn of the next day, with all the explosions around them. They moved from place to place every day, finding new basements to seek refuge and remain hidden from the Russian army.
Then came the point when the the women of the village were allowed to leave and flee to another part of the country, but all the boys and men were forced to remain and be reservists. It broke every mother’s heart to do so, not knowing whether they would ever see their loved ones again in this lifetime. Eva’s heart bled, not only for her family left behind, but the love of her life, Ivan, a fellow musician and music producer. Eva and her mother crossed the border into Poland, finding temporary asylum in Warsaw. Tears brimmed in her eyes as Eva continued to tell me her story, filled with sadness but also gratitude with the generosity and kindness that she and the other women from her village were welcomed with in Poland. They were assigned to host families by the NGO who helped them into the country, and everyone was given food, clothing, shelter to survive the next few weeks.
Eva is in her early 20s at the most, and this was her first time to experience collective kindness at this level, where everyone in the neighbourhood made them feel welcome and safe. Eva and her mother celebrated Catholic Easter in Poland, another new experience for the young Orthodox Christian. Not long thereafter, however, her mother was determined to return to Ukraine to find her husband and sons. Eva had the choice to remain in Poland and continue to move westward or risk her life and go back to find Ivan. Love knows no boundaries. She went back.
After intense negotiations, a way was found for Ivan to be released from the military talons and flee with Eva. The crossed back into Poland but continued to Berlin, where they stayed a couple of weeks to find their bearings and plan. Armed with basically just their courage, the shirts on their backs, and love for one another, Ivan and Eva have made their way to Portugal and have been trying to settle here.
Finding work as musicians during is difficult enough but to have to do so under these circumstances is even more difficult. As we shared our Portugal settlement stories, I was almost embarrassed to share my story after hearing theirs. What they did confirm, though is that in both Poland and Germany, the artists associations supported them in whatever way they could, including monetary, which they have been living on sparingly.
They both have their residency permits now, and have to figure out how to build their lives from here on. Whether Portugal is their final step or not, they are full of questions and uncertainty, very much enamoured with the country and culture, but equally horrified at the cost of rents.
This entire encounter took place over two separate conversations in the kitchen. Ivan joined us only for the second conversation and I was struck by the intensity of his young eyes that have seen so much in so little time, but when he and Eva gaze at each other, struggling with the situation and financial future, he is driven with a sense of protection, wanting to build a life with her, for her, and be able to break into the music industry again.
The shot of the day is once again my favourite bridge in Vila Franca, but dedicated to Eva and Ivan, who have crossed many a bridge in recent times, now knowing what awaits them on the other side.