Trip to Nikolaiev in March 2024

Vika traveled on March 22nd to Nikolaiev. It was her first trip home after almost 2,5 years. As there are no flights to Ukraine directly, Vika had to travel through Moldova (Chisinau). Then she had to take a bus from Chisenau through Odessa to Nikolaiev. The buses are departing almost every hour, that’s why you never have to wait too long.

Crossing the border did not take too long, all together with passport and luggage control maximum two hours. It was interesting to see that the waiting queue to enter Ukraine was almost two times longer than the one to leave the country.

The city of Nikolaiev is half empty, though all those who did not leave it in the beginning of the war, say that there are a lot of people and cars now, it used to be almost empty. The majority of the buildings are intact. But still there are some that are badly destroyed and of course, it is a shock to see it in person, especially when it is a house where people used to live and when looking at the ruins you understand that if they were at home at the moment of explosion they most likely did not survive. The city is well lit and very clean, much cleaner than before the war. The biggest problem which remains is drinking water. The municipal water which runs from taps is very salty and can be used for technical needs only. The whole city is busy with water delivery, everybody who goes out uses the opportunity to bring back home a couple of bottles of water. The water is given for free and also has different qualities: some tanks supply water to drink and cook and others to wash dishes and „take a shower“. You can take as much water as you want, the only problem is that bottles are very heavy.

Prices are absolutely crazy and higher than in Germany. On the first evening Vika went to the supermarket and bought a bottle of milk, two yogurts, porridge and a couple of bananas and paid 8 Euro; the same goods in Germany would have been half as much. People have become very poor, they can’t buy anything but food. That’s why lots of other types of small businesses such as sport clubs, clothes shops etc are closed. There aren’t any customers any more. Military personnel are the only ones who earn good money in Ukraine. You notice this immediately because only people in uniform drive big cars and eat at restaurants and buy something in shops which do not sell goods of basic need.

Corruption is higher than ever before. Everybody is trying to earn something extra. For example, to solve questions at the local bank or communal services (gas, water…) nothing gets done before you paid a bribe.

NBH: the building itself is intact and in perfect condition. Nataliya is doing a great job trying to keep everything safe. All rehabilitation programs work perfectly. They have a kindergarten for disabled children, all rehabilitation rooms (art therapy, hydrotherapy, Montessori, physiotherapy, massage rooms) are open and provide little patients with therapies. If a child stays at NBH longer than 4 hours a day, it gets a full meal. Still it was difficult to visit NBH and to see empty groups and playgrounds. Only 6 children stay at NBH 24 hours, all the rest must go home in the evening. Those children who are in Chernovtsy are not allowed to be brought back to Nikolajev because there isn’t a proper shelter in the building.

War: during the 10 days stay in Ukraine Vika personally heard only two explosions: the first one far far away, not in the city itself; the second one was in the city and relatively loud. Afterwards it was reported that Russians attacked the plant which before the war used to produce turbines for planes. One interesting fact is that this plant has been badly attacked already five times, there is basically no plant any more, it is completely destroyed.

There are air raid alarms almost every two hours, they are very loud and rather scary but nobody pays any attention to them any more. I think people are tired of having fear all the time, nobody runs to shelters any more. What Vika found even worse than explosions and alarms is the number of people who carry weapons.

On March 31th Vika departed from Nikolaiev back home to Germany. Who knows when she might travel to Ukraine again.