Ukrainian refugees find a new life in Germany after Russia’s invasion

A family fled their home outside of Kyiv weeks after the war in Ukraine began. This is what their life looks like in Germany a year later.

In March 2022, less than one month after Russia’s full-scale invasion, Anastasiia Efimova, 34; her four children; and her mother, Larysa Afonina, 52, fled Ukraine, taking a 15-hour train ride from the Polish-Ukrainian border to Berlin.

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Efimova was reluctant to relocate, given the uncertainties of moving to a new country where none of the family spoke the language. The children’s father, her ex-husband, remains in Ukraine, where he serves in the army.

They fled Obolon, a district of Kyiv, with their cats in mid-March.

“It was scary to leave everything behind,” Afonina said at the time. “But it was better to do something than to do nothing.”

The family is among more than 1 million Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Germany since February 2022. Over 7,000 civilians, including at least 400 children, have died due to the war in the past year, according to the United Nations.

Photographer Jacobia Dahm documented the Efimova family’s journey as they fled Ukraine. One year later — with no end to the war in sight — she shared an update on their lives.

They have settled in Wismar, a city three hours north of Berlin. The family speak Russian, which is helpful because it was commonly taught in schools when the town was part of East Germany.

Since late March 2022, the family has been living in a three-bedroom apartment in the heart of the historic city center. They have all spent the past year learning German.

Efimova and her family shop for bargains at different stores to stretch the financial assistance they receive from the city.

Efimova has the best language skills in the family and hopes to secure a well-paying job. She was a salesperson at a drugstore in Ukraine and dreams of becoming a hairdresser, musician or psychologist.

The family eats a warm meal together at home every evening. They are among the 1,150 Ukrainians who have settled in the city since the war began.

The children, who range in age from 10 to 15, begged to return to Ukraine during their first months in Wismar, but they are now hoping to stay. “They find life more interesting here,” Efimova said.

Diana, 10; Elena, 15; and Polina, 11, mostly speak Ukrainian, and the family does not have much contact with Germans. The family was able to find an apartment quickly, which limited their reliance on local help.

Polina and her siblings attend German schools. They also do homework for their Ukrainian schools via online platforms.

Diana lights up when she talks about her new hometown. She said she has made a lot of friends in Wismar and likes all the statues around town.

Their cats Oliver and Charlie. “Our cats are very dear to us. We love them and brought them with us because we understand that we have a responsibility for them,” Efimova said.

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Since moving to Germany, Oliver has learned how to open doors by jumping onto the handle.

Afonina attends a three-hour German class every weekday. She is a diligent student but finds learning German to be difficult.

Nineteen of the 20 students in Afonina’s class are from Ukraine. The large demand for language classes means some have to wait months to attend.

Efimova said she feels “freer” in Germany because no one comments on her body or expects her to wear makeup.

Elena has taken up skateboarding since coming to Germany. She and her siblings have befriended other Ukrainian youth.

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She has a busy social life and is greeted as a regular at a local skate park.

Diana is afraid of heights and had a panic attack coming down the elevator of St. George’s Church in Wismar, a 13th century town by the Baltic Sea.

Efimova sees no reason to return to Kyiv, but Afonina would like to go back to see her father, who is 79.


Nigel Chiwaya

Photo Director

Zara Katz

Art Directors

Chelsea Stahl
Kara Haupt


Joy Wang

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