‘Lost everything’: Ukrainians sail to new lives in Sweden

"We didn't even have time to get our things," says Ukrainian refugee Ludmila Nikiforova, one of hundreds fleeing the brutal conflict to Sweden on ferries from Poland every day.

'Lost everything': Ukrainians sail to new lives in Sweden
Refugees from Ukraine wait for buses after arriving in Karlskrona harbour on ferries from Poland. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Thousands of Ukrainians have arrived in the towns of Trelleborg, Ystad, Karlskrona and Nynäshamn by sea since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine three weeks ago.

Ludmila and her two daughters pull their suitcases into the ferry terminal after disembarking into the spring sunshine of Nynäshamn, a town an hour south of Stockholm.

There, together with 500 other passengers made up mostly of women and children, they are greeted by volunteers eager to give them basic necessities.

Nearby tables are stacked with water bottles, sandwiches, baby food and sanitary products. Even dog and cat food is available for those fleeing with pets.

Donated prams and buggies are lined up against a wall, and one table is covered with stuffed toys for children. Ludmila and her girls fled their home in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city, after Russia began shelling the city on February 28th.

“The bombing started, the air raid alarm went off. We quickly packed our bags to take the train,” Ludmila, who worked in a shoe factory, tells AFP.

As they headed for the train station they heard the sound of explosions in the distance, 20-year-old Anna and her 19-year-old sister Anastasia recall.

“But it was far from us and fortunately we were not hit,” says Anna, a programmer.

“At Kharkiv station there were a lot of people. And when we arrived in Lviv there were even more people. We arrived at three o’clock in the morning and we waited out in the street for a train to Poland,” she adds.

They had no plan for where to go after that.

In the end, they chose Sweden, a country once known for its generous refugee policy and which took in the highest number of asylum-seekers per capita in Europe during the 2015 migration crisis.

Shelter in Sweden

More than three million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the invasion, according to the UN migration agency IOM, with 1.8 million of them fleeing to Poland.

So far, ferry company Polferries has transported 5,600 Ukrainians free of charge from Poland to Nynashamn. Other ferry lines have transported thousands.

Sweden’s Migration Agency estimated earlier this week that at least 4,000 Ukrainian refugees were arriving in Sweden per day, with the real number likely much higher as not all were registered immediately on arrival.

Long queues have formed outside the Migration Agency’s offices around Sweden, with some asking people to turn around and come back another day.

Authorities are meanwhile scrambling to set up reception centres and accommodation for the tens of thousands expected.

The Migration Agency has drawn up planning scenarios to help it prepare for the arrival of anywhere between 27,000 and 212,000 Ukrainians between March and June.

That upper figure would top the record 163,000 asylum-seekers that Sweden — a country of 10 million people — took in during the 2015 migration crisis.

The country has since tightened its migration policy, citing the strain put on its immigration and integration systems.

Among other measures, it now grants only temporary residency permits. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Swedish government has stressed that EU countries need to do more this time around to share the burden.

For Ludmila, who has just taken her first breaths in Sweden, the future is up in the air. Her mind is still focused on the past and what she and her daughters have left behind.

“We lost our house, our jobs, our lives, what little we had there. You see, people build something, aspire to make or be something in life, but we lost everything.”

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.