Out of the frying pan, Ukrainian reaches Gaza

Published March 24, 2022
UKRAINIAN Viktoria Saidam is accompanied by her Palestinian husband Ibrahim Saidam.—AFP
UKRAINIAN Viktoria Saidam is accompanied by her Palestinian husband Ibrahim Saidam.—AFP

BUREIJ: After Russia invaded Ukraine, Viktoria Saidam knew she needed to find a “safer place” than Kyiv and ultimately chose her husband’s homeland — a Palestinian territory not typically associated with security: Gaza.

Saidam, 21, was born Viktoria Breij in Vinnytsia, a town some 200 kilometres southwest of Ukraine’s capital.

While studying pharmacy in Kyiv, she met Ibrahim Saidam, a medical student from Bureij, a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-blockaded Mediterranean enclave home to 2.3 million Palestinians.

Since they married two years ago, Viktoria Saidam had been keen to get to Gaza to meet her in-laws, but the Russian assault launched on February 24 accelerated that long-anticipated family gathering, she told AFP.

“We understood that there was no way to know what tomorrow would bring. The number of dead and dying was rising every day,” said the young woman, sobbing as she watched videos of Russian strikes destroying buildings in Ukraine.

Their first move was to pack up, leave Kyiv and head to Vinnytsia. They left the town before a March 7 Russian bombardment on Vinnytsia’s airport killed nine people according Ukraine’s emergency services.

“My husband and I had to look for a safer place than Ukraine,” Saidam said. “We chose his homeland, Gaza.”

The couple fled Ukraine by minibus and then on foot, walking across the Romanian border.

They then flew to Cairo and from there headed for the Rafah crossing with southern Gaza.

The young woman said she knows “the reality” of life in Gaza, a territory controlled by Hamas since 2007 and under strict Israeli blockade for 15 years now. “There was a war here, and it can start again, but we had to leave Ukraine and (Gaza) was safe,” Saidam said.

“We don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” added the Ukrainian woman who converted to Islam shortly after her wedding and who so far speaks only a few words of Arabic.

“We hope and pray for the best.”

According to Ukraine’s diplomatic office in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, there are some 2,500 Ukrainians in Gaza, mostly women who have married Palestinians men who studied abroad, like Ibrahim.

The impeccably coiffed 23-year-old husband, who speaks fluent Ukrainian, said that having lived through three of the Gaza wars, he has “some experience” with conflict.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2022

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