Ilyana Almasoud: ” War is like a wound. You can’t treat it just by covering it up with a patch”

She becomes a refugee twice. Ilyana Almasoud is half Syrian, half Ukrainian. She  had  to run from tow wars in both countries where she lived. Ilyana   opened her  own language school in Kyev in 2015. She says that her mission is to give people hope to carry on their life when every thing around them ruined.

– May I raise question about your family? How did you mother and father meet each other?

My parents met in Kyiv. They were both studying here. He came from Damascus and she came from Donetsk and their paths crossed in Kyiv. Father was studying air-craft engineering, mother was studying linguistics. It was a great love story, they got married and when I was 3 we moved to Syria, Homs. After they got married my father had to resign from the military. Syrian laws didn’t allow militants to get married to foreigners.

– When you was a  child are you being aware of war? What did you think about it?

Like any other child of the 90s all what I knew about war was from the movies. The black and white movies about the 2nd World War were tragic and powerful enough to make me think that humans had their lesson learned and will never allow such atrocities to happen again. But that what the child’s mind thinks. It seems it’s logical to think this way but it’s too naive.

– Firstly, I propose to talk about you Syrian life. What cities have you been live? How did it be different then Ukrainian? 

I grew up in Syria. Lived there almost all my life till i was 27. We lived in Homs, Aleppo and Damascus. My favourite of all the cities was Damascus. It had a beautiful mix of what is eastern and western, modern and old. The old town of Damascus had something magical to it. a history so old that you can’t fathom and a sense of depth. Syria in general is famous for its people’s kindness and generosity. Their hospitality is unparalleled. Syrians are generally cheerful and smiley.

The Ukrainian and Syrian cultures have a lot in common. But if we talk about the differences I would say that Ukrainians are a bit more reserved. They won’t give you a smile easily, or invite you to their homes after 10 minutes of street chat. The Syrians are more likely to have as many strangers in their homes as there are mattresses and tea cups. On the other hand, I like the attention the Ukrainians give to the upbringing of their children. Children grow up in Ukraine with a sense of love to nature and animals. They get more attention and care unlike the Syrian kids who grow up in big families with a lot of siblings.

When I was 4, I witnessed a disturbing scene in Homs. At the back yard, children were throwing stones at a  small puppy that was stuck in a bush. They ended up killing the puppy. I run back home in tears. But now, looking back at it, I guess it was just a reflection of a different upbringing that was more focused on survival rather than nature and love to animals. Also it could be a hidden aggression coming out in this form. But of course I don’t mean to generalize. These are very subjective observations.

Also life in Syria had to put more cultural and religious restrictions on me. In the third grade in Aleppo I was the only Christian child and I had to study Islam with the rest of my classmates. Children used to surround me like surrounding some tropical parrot and teaching me al basmalah. They were concerned that if I don’t convert to Islam I will go to hell in the afterlife and then that would be such a waste. J

In the secondary and high schools, boys and girls had to wear a school uniform that looked like a military uniform. I have always envied my Ukrainian girl friends who wore beautiful black skirts and elegant white shirts. But then things changed in Syria after the first lady did her best to change the ugly uniforms to something more cheerful and colorful.

– When did you completely sure that you motherland Syria  is  dangerous place?

I realized that after a couple of bad explosions that happened in Damascus in 2011. In summer that year my brother and I left to visit my mother in Donetsk. We planned a trip for two weeks but shortly after our arrival in Donetsk, Damascus airport was bombed and we realized that things are way more serious than what the majority of us had hoped.

– Now there are a lot of stories about Syrian refugees who come back home from Europe illegally. What is you point of view on that  phenomenon?

– There are so many reasons why would anyone come back to their countries despite the danger and the war. One of the reasons could be the difficulty to adapt. Leaving your country and having to adapt to a completely new environment could be as stressful as living in a war zone. But the war zone could become something familiar to a person with time, something that he/she learnt how to cope with thus these people might prefer going back driven by nostalgia to their countries and probably family they had to leave behind.

— Do you still have relatives in Syria? Why some people cannot leave the country?

– My father, grandfather and aunt are  still in Syria, they do not have an opportunity to move to a safer place, also it has become almost impossible for Syrians to get visas to go anywhere. . My uncle had to immigrate to Germany, he had  to leave the  country through the illegal way – Turkey, Greece. . Of course it’s easier to cross all this way when you are young.  My old relatives cannot to do that. .

My family and friends in Syria had so many narrow escapes with explosions happening only 5 minutes after they had passed by the place of the explosion.

After Syria you moved to Donetsk and then after the war started you left the city and settled down in Kyev. What does it feel like being refugee twice?

– I don’t consider my self a refugee in all the sense of this word. But I can definitely say that I don’t always feel the sense of belonging. But having to leave one home and then the other can be one’s biggest challenge and at the same time one’s biggest blessings. Only when you have nothing to lose and no roof you call your own you start building with all the power and faith that you have. When you have nothing to lose you are free from fear.

– You wrote on social media: “Despite all the peace we tried to sustain during this period, the separation was harder than the two wars I had witnessed». Explain, why?

– Isn’t it always like that? The human nature is designed in a way that we view our personal or emotional troubles in a more sensitive way than viewing the global or the larger scale events. Once in a book I read there was a story mentioned about two African women who had to immigrate to Europe. And despite all the collective hardship immigrants/ refugees had to go through, one of the women was crying because she was too concerned that her boyfriend would leave her for her cousin.

What is you point of view on why conflict in Donbass happed? What was the main reason – pro-Russian supporters or political propaganda?

– What are the reasons for any war? I am not a politician and I am not that savvy to give facts and answers to political questions. But looking back at history we see that any war is the cause of greed and desire to secure one’s territories, also for power and the need to expand one’s empires.

– What was you reaction when the conflict in Ukraine was started? Did you take part in pro-Ukrainian rallies?

– I was deeply sad and touched by the courage and the bravery the Ukrainians showed fighting for their rights. I knew it was not a conflict that would end soon. I didn’t take part in any rallies. I was in Donetsk when Maidan happened and in summer 2014 we moved to Kyiv.

Did you have dialogues with people in Donetsk after the moving to Kyev?

– Yes. Some of my friends and neighbours in Donetsk express their longing to be back to Ukraine to be back as one country. But just like my Syrian friends and family, many of them cannot leave the city because either they have to take care of an older member of a family or they have no money to move out.

–  Do you support idea with the introduction of peacekeeping troops to Donetsk? What kind of troops should it be? Somebody are warning that it an be pro-Russian….

– I’m not in favour of any kind of intervention. I think it is like you have a wound and you have to treat it with antiseptic or surgery but you put a plaster on it. We covered something up but do not solve a problem.

Сan you give me your thoughts on how to stop conflicts in Donbass and Syria?

– We should stop investments in the war. It is all up to the decision makers to decide that it is enough and a shake hands.

Every body has got tired and want to put off guns. I fully believe in cycles, nothing will be in a low position for too long, one day it will change. .

– When it will happen, are you going to back Syria or Donetsk?

– No, I will stay in Kyev. My parents fell in love here, I was made here. , This city resonates with me. this is my city.