The family has just moved into a beautiful two bedroom apartment – Copyright AFP MARVIN RECINOS, MARVIN RECINOS
After months of suffering and hesitation, the Titkov family, who fled to Vienna from Ukraine immediately after the Russian invasion, finally decided to stay.
Their three boys – Daniil, 9, Denis, 11, and Dmitry, 15 – started a new school year there this week, marking another milestone in their new life in the Austrian capital.
Even though they were “a little concerned” about their German, they wrote small messages as a gift to their teachers. Returning home to Ukraine, they would bring them flowers.
Mother Irina, 39, wore her traditional Ukrainian gerdan necklace for the occasion, knowing that school is the first step towards integration.
AFP is following a family of refugees from Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv, who in the early weeks of the war experienced heavy fighting during their first year of new life in a country where a quarter of the population is made up of immigrants.
– birthday “Miracle” –
After six months of uncertainty, little Daniil settled down at school like a fish in water. He lists all the pens and stationery he needs for the lesson in German.
But his older brother prefers to spend time with his Ukrainian friends rather than doing school work.
Concerned – and doing her best to make her boys finally feel at home – Irina meets with the principal to talk about how they can help Dimitri.
The family has just moved into a beautiful two-bedroom apartment overlooking a green courtyard in a residential area half an hour from the center of Vienna.
Irina Titkova greeted AFP at their new home with delicious Ukrainian dumplings and dumplings served with steaming borscht.
It’s a huge relief to finally have your own place and not depend on the goodwill of others.
Before that, the five of them lived in the same room in an apartment that they found through friends of friends.
“After three months of searching every day, I got a call from (the Protestant charity) Diakonia” saying that they had found an apartment,” says Irina.
“It was a miracle on my birthday!”
Their teenager now has a room where he can play the guitar. The younger boys, both bundles of energy, have bunk beds. On the balcony is a hammock, an invitation to dream of better days ahead. And all this for a rent of 400 euros ($397) per month.
“It gives us a feeling of comfort,” Irina said with a smile.
Starting over is not easy, especially when you have had to leave your home, family, job, and status.
The former English teacher now works as a cashier at an American fast food restaurant. Her husband, Valery, a home physiotherapist, also works in the warehouse there.
– “We need to be useful” –
“It’s hard… but it’s money and I can earn it and it’s not a donation. Maybe I’m too proud, but I feel that we should be useful to society.”
The Titkovs want to “feel equal…not just refugees.”
The family ended up in Vienna by accident, because Irina went there with the school when she taught.
“I remember how beautiful and multinational it was. Vienna impressed me.
Nevertheless, in June the Titkovs almost returned to Ukraine. Hearing about dead friends, about war crimes and from those who remained to fight, Irina was tormented by guilt for not being able to help.
Then the fighting escalated again, and the family – one of the seven million people displaced by the invasion, according to the United Nations – began to consider returning.
“Maybe this is (our) destiny to be here and a chance to get to know another culture,” Irina said.
“When I see how soldiers have to fight, it certainly hurts me,” says Valery, who has an athletic build. “But to be honest, I am not capable of going to war. I couldn’t kill the fly.”
As a father of three, he is one of the very few combat-age men allowed to leave and avoid being drafted into the Ukrainian army.
This is the second time this Russian-speaking man has been uprooted by war, having to leave Azerbaijan at age 13 for Kyiv as post-Soviet conflict erupted there with neighboring Armenia.
But for now, the family is focused on the future and managing those butterflies back to school.
After all, at the end of the month, both parents will return to school themselves to start a German course …