It might be better elsewhere, 1995 – 1996

It was a long journey in our old car; we had to travel across the country to the south west, to the border with Czech Republic. As our youngest daughter Daniela was just a few month old, we had to stop twice to feed her.  She needed a freshly made formula, so I had to knock on someone’s door and ask for such a favour, to get a boiled water to prepare the food. We were traveling all day, with a few stops just to have a little rest, stretch our legs, and answer the nature’s call. When it got dark, Vlad started to feel sleepy and his eyes were closing. It was dangerous to continue driving, so, we stopped in a safe place near the road, to sleep the night through.

We were lucky to have summer, so we didn’t freeze at night. In the morning, the two older girls started to complain as they were hungry. We had no food with us, and could only rely on some shops or fast food cafes to get something warm to eat. We were already very close to the Czech border, and were wondering whether we would be allowed into Czech Republic. We had a Polish visa for two months, and it was the very last day of its validity. We were afraid of being refused entry, yet two officers looked at our passports, then at our little kids, then looked at each other, and allowed us through. We were nearly sweating when we left that place. We made it!

We were heading to Prague, as we knew there was a main refugee camp there. Prague was a very beautiful city, with lots of attractive architecture. Yet, we couldn’t enjoy the views, we could only think about getting to the final destination, rest, eat, and sleep. The journey affected all of us, and we were exhausted and miserable. Finally, by asking a couple of people for direction, we managed to get to what looked like a refugee camp. Though, to be honest, it looked a bit better than a prison. There was a big metal gate, and a few security guards nearby. We told them that we wanted to claim asylum, and they let us through the gate.

We were placed in a large room with multiple bunk beds, there were some other people in it, of different nationalities. We met a few from the former USSR as well, particularly from Georgia and Armenia. They said that we wouldn’t stay there for long, as they normally send people to other camps. That turned out to be true – we got assigned to go to Zastavka-u-Brna, which was south-east, not far from the Slovak border. We still had our car, so, once all paperwork was done, we headed to our allocated camp.

I started to feel sick and had a fever, not sure why, maybe I was just weakened and tired. It was a long journey again, several hours continuous driving. I felt nearly half-dead, but needed to hold a little girl on my lap, and I was scared that I may drop her. We had a trouble of finding our way to the camp, there was a turn from the motorway that we were supposed to go into, but we couldn’t find it. We were going back and forth three times, before we could notice the sign ‘Zastavka-u-Brna’ and a minor road to turn into. When we arrived at the camp, I was completely ill with 40 degree temperature!

The camp was surrounded with a high metal fence, there were three big buildings on the premises, and soldiers with shepherd dogs.  We got a room in one of the buildings, first a shared one with other claimants. They told us we would have to wait for a separate room. After two days they gave us a separate room, with multiple beds in it. We were happy to be in our own room, and just wanted to lie down and sleep. We needed a good rest, all of us were nearly finished off.

The next day we learned that we couldn’t go out whenever we wanted. The claimants had to request the time out, or ask for permission to go out, and receive a card stating day and time. It wasn’t everyday, though, I think it was every second day. We felt as if we were criminals and in prison. But it was their rules that we had to abide by. We met others from the former USSR as well, and even a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia. They were attending a local Czech congregation, so I started to go with them. I also met a family of Witnesses living not far from the camp. They started to study the Bible with me (as I was studying in Poland). Czech language had a lot of similarities with Polish, and I could understand a lot, as well as read in it.

At some point, Vlad started to get annoyed with this permission system. He didn’t like it that we couldn’t go out freely. He argued with the authorities. Later, our car which we left outside the camp, had a front window smashed. We didn’t know who did it, but we suspected someone among the guards. We didn’t have money to replace the window, so Vlad got some cardboard and see-through material, and made a makeshift ‘window’. It wasn’t so good, but still possible to see through. Vlad convinced me to leave the camp altogether. We also saw that a few people were staying in the camp for nearly two years, and there was no decision made. We didn’t want to stay there for so long, living in such conditions. We decided to leave. Oh, travellers’ life wasn’t sweet at all!

We asked for our passports back, saying that we changed our mind and didn’t want an asylum, got into the car and left. We felt as gypsies that very moment, not having our own place anywhere, being homeless and hopeless. We didn’t know where to go, who to turn to. We were totally alone. We just headed to Prague, the capital, hoping to find some charity who could help us with anything. There is a Russian saying: “A drowning man will grab even a straw”.  We were grabbing our straw, hoping to get some help in the capital. Of course, we could get a place somewhere to sleep and eat, but that was actually it. One organisation offered us train tickets back to Moscow. We accepted them, but we had no intention to go to Moscow, why would we?

The only place we could return was Poland, so we just got on that train to Moscow, and got off in Warsaw. We were completely lost, didn’t know where to go, and who ask for help. I remember walking along carrying little Dani, and once it happened I stumbled on a pavement, and fell like a cut tree, on the ground. It was a miracle that nothing happened to Dani, she was only scared and cried a bit, and even I didn’t hurt myself except a bit of a pain on my elbow as I landed on it! I thought that God watched over us, still, even in our miseries. At least we were still alive!