‘Their Pain is Mine, Too’

Application deadline: 
August 25, 2023

Geneva-based Ukrainian interpreter Karyna Pavlova shares her inspiring story of supporting her homeland from abroad.

Born in Dnipro, Ukraine, Karyna came to Geneva in 2014 to study French literature. After the Russian invasion in 2022, she began dedicating all of her time to helping her country under attack by organising weekly humanitarian shipments, holding rallies and coordinating events to spread awareness about the atrocities of the war. With the Swiss Ukrainian Society, she has been providing support to civilians in Ukraine, and she also helped arrange the transfer of three Ukrainian soldiers to a French hospital where they underwent a facial reconstruction surgery.

How did your life change after February 24th, 2022?

The first day I was stuck reading news and updates, watching videos of everything that was going on. Fortunately, it wasn’t 2014 anymore, when international media would just relay Russian propaganda and we had to shout from every rooftop to let the world know the truth.

I think this war changed us all in a way. It made us rethink our lives and our priorities. We still live this hell daily. Every day I have notifications on my phone about air alerts in the city where my family is. And every day I am worried and scared for them and for thousands of Ukrainians living under the threat of unexpected shelling. Sometimes I see a picture of a dead soldier who left a wife and a child behind and I just start crying because this pain – their pain – is mine, too. And it’s unbearable.

Karyna Pavlova at a rally for Ukraine in Geneva, 2022.

How do you perceive your duty to your country as someone who came to Europe earlier, not as a refugee?

I think my duty is no less than the one of any displaced person. I felt that it was important for me to support the newly arrived people and help them in any way possible. I also try to be the voice of my country whenever it’s possible, and provide explanations of cultural, historical, and social contexts. Every day I have one question on my mind – how can I help my country to make a real impact? This is why being involved in the humanitarian rehabilitation project now makes me feel that we can also make a big difference from here.

What advice do you have for other Ukrainians who find themselves in Europe and want to help?

Find a local association of Ukrainians. There is always one in every big city and sometimes in small ones too. Support their activities and volunteer with them. Support local Ukrainian initiatives that you trust. And share as much information as possible to spread awareness.

What difficulties do Ukrainian refugees face in Switzerland? How do you help people to overcome them?

Apart from the usual adaptation difficulties of coming to a new country, one must understand that Ukrainian temporarily displaced people are in a state of extreme fragility and constant stress. It is important to provide consistent support. We have a Ukrainian center established by the Ukraine Reborn association for people to come together for different classes. We also opened a Ukrainian school for children from 4 to 16, and it was a huge success. In general, I think Switzerland provides good conditions and the Ukrainian community here is very supportive.

How do you keep your momentum?

It is difficult. Sometimes it completely burns you out. It is important to keep the focus on what you can do to help and remember that you are a person and you have your limits too. In this regard, the most essential thing is to have a team and friends you can rely on, so that when you need to rest, they are there to take over.

--Helena Tomková

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