Sunday morning, Warsaw street. Around a hundred people with buckets and garbage bags gather in front of the subway station. They come from all over Berlin – and from all over the Ukraine. Among them are musicians, confectioners, teachers, lawyers and pensioners.
They were all forced to leave their homes because of the war. Anastasia Lebedinskaya has called on Ukrainians to clean up, to help make Berlin cleaner and to say “thank you” to Germany for finding asylum here.
Lebedinskaya is a confectioner from Gostomel, 28 years old, now she lives on Kurfürstenstrasse. “Berliners have started to get the impression that we came here and that we don’t do anything here, but want everything. I want to show that we are not arrogant or impudent, but hardworking people doing what is in our power to do something useful for the city and the people. To at least somehow thank the Germans who do a lot of good for us. Not just the government, but people who take in people who pass on food and information.”
Also present is Vladislav’s family, who came to Berlin from Odessa. Vladislav and his wife are musicians who played in an orchestra before the war. They now clean up the streets with their daughters Milana, eleven, and Anna, nine. “A friend called us. We want to work, we are not used to being idle.”
Tetyana Vitkovskaya came to Berlin with her daughter from Kyiv. She is 39 years old, both now live in Kreuzberg. When asked what she was doing at home, Tetyana starts to cry. The woman has found work, she helps refugees and still misses her home and a peaceful life there. “I missed the physical work. I wanted to join to take my mind off the sad news.” On the German side, Anna Wasilewska was responsible for the cleaning work. She works for the Litter Picker initiative.
With her own funds, Anna bought equipment to remove the rubbish. It’s not the first time she’s organized such a cleanup. Today, she says, the Germans have joined the Ukrainians in cleaning up the park.
Anna Wasilewska says that everything is taken to the Berlin city cleaning department in the blue bags, and the local authorities will recycle the garbage. First they were told that they would have to pay six euros per sack. “We explained that we were volunteers and would take the rubbish with us free of charge.” Around 100 people then took part in the campaign.
The 100 cleaning tongs were taken in a minute. Most of the volunteers are visitors to “Café Ukraine”. “We cannot stand by and watch the Ukrainians who have stayed behind fight for their independence and freedom every day,” says Natalia Useplina.
In Ukraine, Natalia taught pedagogy at a university. She came to Berlin with her retired husband. The couple now reside in Friedrichshain and say: “We have come to raise the morale of our people and to thank the Germans for helping us and believing in Ukraine. The whole world is looking at us because before the war we were hardly known. The war drove us from our homes. If we can’t be at home, we have to make ourselves useful here. Ukrainians are mentally strong and hardworking. We strive for freedom and cleanliness.”
A total of 15 bags of rubbish were collected during the cleaning operation, most of which were cigarette butts, says Anastasia Lebedinskaya. Then there was lemonade and cake. And a woman from Donetsk treated those present to real Ukrainian lard with garlic.
“I really enjoyed cleaning. I also met other children from Ukraine,” said nine-year-old Yegor Klimov from Chernihiv Oblast. Like my daughter, for example, because we also lent a hand ourselves.
(The author belongs to the team of the Tagesspiegel journalist:innenhilfeprojekt. Before the war she was a news reporter.)