A dream regained – Dima from Mariupol

One year ago, everything was going according to his plans. Dima – as his friends call him – just turned 18 in January, and was preparing for a long career in football. He had been doing quite well, climbing the ranks and playing regularly for the under-19 side of Mariupol FC, his hometown’s football club. The young man lived an ordinary life in Mariupol: his days were dominated by studying, practicing, playing football and spending time with his girlfriend, Anna. Today, Dima lives in a different country with a strange language some 1700 kilometres away from the city he once called home, far from his parents and relatives. His and so many others’ plan was shattered by the onset of war a year ago – but as a fighter he is, he always makes new ones.

Dima remembers those days like it was yesterday. “It was 5 in the morning, I was still asleep – then I got a phone call, two actually. First my girlfriend, Anna called me, then my father’s girlfriend. They said that the Russians have started bombing Ukraine and that we should hurry and withdraw cash from the ATM.

Even though they acted quickly, it was already late to leave Mariupol. 

 “It was difficult to leave the city, because the battle for Mariupol was raging in the outskirts of the town. That was the reason not many people could flee the city in time, almost everyone stayed. In the beginning, we tried to survive the siege in the city, we were really afraid to leave it. On the third or fourth day, Russians were already shelling the downtown, where we lived. When they hit the house next door, we took shelter in the basement. We stayed down there for a week, hardly able to grab a whiff of fresh air due to the constant fighting. Then a missile finally hit our house, smoke filled the basement so we had to run out into the open, fearing for our lives, artillery shelling all around. It was the worst day of my life, it was then that I decided to leave no matter what. Life in Mariupol after the start of the war became horrible. Seeing all that military action was perhaps the most terrible period of my life.”

What happened afterwards is nothing short of an Odyssey. Together with his girlfriend, he left for Donetsk with the help of his friends over there. His plan of becoming a football player for Mariupol FC may have shattered, but the circumstances dictated a new one: survival and getting out of the warzone. In Donetsk, they planned just that – and after one month, they embarked on a dangerous journey across Russia with the final destination: Budapest.

Dima, with Anna on his right and her friend on his left

Why Budapest, Hungary? ”I have a friend who actually fled here in the first days. But I’ve also seen a video on Youtube from Yury Dud, very famous Russian vlogger about Hungary and refugees. Actually, it was kind of crazy, I wrote him and he wrote back. He gave me contact details to András, who works with Hungarian Interchurch Aid. I called András that day, asked him if we came to Budapest would there be something waiting for us there. He assured me, that we would be getting some kind of accommodation and three meals a day from HIA. And so it was – I ended up staying with HIA from April to July. During that time I even started working nightshifts in a warehouse.”

As his plan for escape and survival worked, his old dream of playing “the beautiful game” resurfaced. He tells me that there were times when he’d given up on it. 

“When missiles flew over my head and I couldn’t go to training, or when I was working in the warehouse at night, I thought that fate wouldn’t give me another chance. For months I didn’t train, I didn’t play, I almost made up my mind that my greatest dream had been taken away from me by the war. Then, overnight, everything turned for the better, and now I can do my bit to make my dream come true again. I cannot stress enough how grateful I am to those who have been and are still with me in the past months.”

Dima receives a monthly scholarship from long-time corporate partner of HIA, Provident Zrt.

Today, he lives in Székesfehérvár, a smaller town some 60 kilometres to the south-west of Budapest, and chases the old dream again. Dima even receives a monthly scholarship – courtesy of a long-time corporate partner of HIA. “Hungarian Interchurch Aid found a football club which was ready to take me on despite my not so good physical shape as by then I have not played football for over half a year because of the fighting. The club’s management was very understanding -they took me. This is how I ended up in MOL Fehérvár FC.”

Even though he’s got his dream back, there are new challenges he needs to overcome. “Adjusting to life in Hungary was a daunting experience… When I joined the club, language was a big issue at first. The physical shape was another problem. But coaches and the team were helpful. It took me four months to regain my basic physical shape. After the winter break I hope that I will be signed as a player of this club and then I will continue building my career.”

He is regaining his form playing for MOL Fehérvár's U-19 side

As he works towards his goals, there are still many thoughts that trouble him. With fighting continuing in the second year of the war, he thinks an easy peace was never an option. “It was clear from the start that the war would last. This is extremely difficult for all Ukrainians… I also understand how horrible it is in the frontline, how many of our guys are dying there. Also, it is a particularly difficult for peaceful civilians – I remember what it was like in Mariupol. I hope that with God’s help the war will end by summer, and that we will live in a free country, without war and free from occupation, with European values. I hope that we will rebuild our country and everything will be alright.”

He also has a message to the people who’ll read his story: “I just want to say – please do help Ukrainians as we are in a horrible situation especially those living under the Russian occupation. They are suffering much more than other Ukrainians although other Ukrainians are living through immense trials too. They cannot return home because of the Russians. Some, like me, simply have nowhere to return to as my house was razed to the ground and cannot be rebuilt. There are many refugees in Europe. These Ukrainians will do no harm to you, they are good people and they will repay your kindness. When that horror in Ukraine ends, the majority of them will return home to live in their own and rebuild it.”

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