Diaria, Ukrainian architect: “If we want to survive, it is better to be afraid”

Diaria is an architect, Viktoriya is a basketball player. The first fled Kiev in an emergency in late February, the second was in Bulgaria when Putin launched his offensive. Both took refuge in Belgium and work there today.

Several companies have declared themselves ready to hire Ukrainians. A good will that is not always easy to achieve. But some have just taken the plunge. We met two young women who were able to get a job in very different sectors: interior design and sports.

First stop in Uccle, at OOO, an interior design office specializing in change management and workplace design. Diaria sits in the small armchair next to us with her mobile phone on her lap. “If I ever need it, for the translation,” she tells us in almost perfect English. Diaria is 31 years old, she is an architect. She left her apartment in Kiev on February 24, hours after Vladimir Putin launched his offensive against Ukraine. Less than a month later, she started working as a freelancer for OOO, a stone’s throw from the Bois de la Cambre.

She and Anouck van Oordt, founder and CEO of OOO, tell how their paths crossed. A 2,000 km long path to Daria. Only a few dozen meters to Anouck. The instructor was looking for a new talent for his team. “One of my friends, Caroline, had registered on the refugee reception platform. She welcomed Diaria, her sister and her nephew to her home in rue Vanderkindere. I offered to meet her.”

“We are already considering projects. She dreams of rebuilding her country when the war is over, my husband would like to be able to go there to help them.”

Anouck van Oordt

Founder and CEO of OOO

In two days, the case was folded. Anouck skipped the usual recruitment steps. She took a look at Diaria’s book, projects for hospitals, schools, hotels, offices she was won over. “She is very talented, she does great things. Even though there had not been a job to occupy, I would have taken her,” says Anouck. We are already considering projects. She dreams of rebuilding her country when the war is over. My husband, who is also an architect, would like to be able to go there to help them. Our paths crossed, I do not know how long, but she will remain in our lives forever.

The young woman started last Monday in her new office. Many formalities still need to be completed, OOO works with freelancers, Anouck and her husband have to help the young woman sign up for Smart, and intend to fight to get everything in order for her quickly.

Less than a month ago, Diaria was still hiding in the basement of her sister’s building in Kiev. In the story of her journey, she does not omit any of the details that built her exile. Sometimes her eyes water, but Diaria is strong, she tirelessly pursues her story, like an I, tapping her mobile when words fail, pointing to the places she has visited on the map of Ukraine, the cities where his friends lived, his parents stranded in the Crimea, his brother-in-law Max, who stayed in Loutsk, near the Polish border. Every day she hears from them.

escape to survive

On February 24 at 4 p.m., she understands that she must flee her apartment. The warning sirens resound at night, like the footprints of his panicked neighbor in the neighboring apartment. His bag is already ready. She interrupts the gas, the water, puts on two jeans, sweaters to hurry to her sister’s house. For two weeks, Diaria had followed Nastia’s advice. Prepare for the worst. Watch army videos to learn how to survive in the forest. Provide freeze-dried food, flashlights, batteries, big shoes, his computer and his documents, the essence of his life: diplomas, identity papers, title deed of his apartment. “I did not believe it, I did not understand how it was possible to experience a war in 2022, as in 40. I thought it was crazy, I was wondering ‘what am I doing here’. ”

“My sister was a little paranoid, but suddenly she was super prepared. If you want to survive, you better be scared.”


Ukrainian architect

She tells of the two-day stay in her sister’s basement in the suburbs of Kiev, stacked up at five o’clock on the concrete floor, the basin for the needs, the window that did not reassure them, the stairs as they climbed into the bag at the back to go to look for food, not sure to be able to go down again. You never know, a bomb. So the decision to leave, first to Loutsk, where friends could welcome them. The cans of gasoline piled up in the car, the traffic jams to get out of Kiev, the 13-hour drive in the middle of the long column of exile Ukrainians. “My sister was a little paranoid, but suddenly she was super-prepared. If you want to survive, you better be scared.”

Organize the future

Realizing in Lutsk that the war would not end immediately, the two sisters set out in search of safety, first across the Polish border, to Lublin, then to Brussels., where Diaria is lucky to have her friends Tanja and Michael. After spending a few days in their apartment, Diaria, Nastya and little Dima moved in with Caroline, who opened the doors to her Uccle house for them. Diaria set about organizing the near future. Find a job, a place to live, a school for Dima. The distant future she is unable to project herself into.

“We must do everything to stop this war. Do everything to stop the devil.”

“We want to return to Ukraine, it is our home. Putin made a big mistake by believing that Ukraine is not a nation in itself. He is crazy, I hope the Russians will overcome their fears and end up stopping it. . We can not live forever with a government that destroys everything and deprives people of freedom. If we do not stop Putin, nothing will stop him. Everything must be done to stop this war. Do anything to stop the devil. Crimes must be punished, otherwise the world can never turn around. How will we explain this impunity to our children? It is impossible.

In Diaria, we feel a smoldering anger and a lot of pain. “I suffer from not being able to return to my country,” she confides, her gray eyes shining with unprepared tears. “I do not know if I will ever see my parents again. The only thing I know is that I need to stay strong to take care of my sister and my nephew. Live day to day. As for the future … “

After Uccle, Braine-l’Alleud

We leave Diaria for our second stage, which takes us to Braine-l’Alleud. A completely different story … On the edge of the track to the hall of the Gaston Reiff sports center we are waiting Viktoriya Balaban, professional basketball player at Prometey Club, based in Kamianske, a city in central Ukraine. Viktoriya was in Bulgaria when Putin launched his offensive. Unable to return home. Those in charge of Castors Braine were contacted by his agent. The club already had another Ukrainian, Valeriya, employed in 2021. “We made the request so that she could return to Belgium and get a one-year contract. The federation gave its consent and she could come directly to Belgium“, says the chairman of the club, Jacques Platieau.

“Viktoria has already played her first match on Wednesday, against Lummen. With a welcome gift, a small injury that will not make her lose her smile. This Saturday, she and Castors will meet Namur.”
© saskia vanderstichele

Her team leader, Kathleen Schuurmans, talks about the hours she spent queuing at Heysel to get her papers and the relief when she finally received her ticket on the afternoon of March 11th. Papers, a job and housing made available to him by the club, it was enough for Viktoriya to feel a little more secure. Moreover, the day of his 25th birthday. “She’s being welcomed as if she were at home, and that gives her the opportunity to work and make money.“, says the chairman of Castors, who is proud that his club, whose jersey is blue and yellow (well … like the flag of Ukraine), can play its social role.

“As soon as the workout is over, her face changes, she’s back in the news.”

Kathleen Schuurmans

Team leader for Castors Braine

This Friday afternoon, as we meet her shortly before her training, Google translate will be our ally. The ball, she explains, is what helps her hold on to her exile. As she bounces the ball around the court, she does not think of war. “But as soon as the workout is over, her face changes, she’s back in the news,” Kathleen tells us.

For Viktoriya, the jerk is all the stronger because the young woman does not speak a word of French or English. Her compatriot Valeriya serves as her interpreter, but also as a close friend. The only one he has left, outside the screen of his cell phone. Viktoriya’s family and friends are still in Ukraine. Only her mother is safe in Poland, her father and sisters remained in the Odessa region. As for her husband, also a professional basketball player, he was able to take advantage of an exception as an athlete. No fight against the Russians for him. The couple has just spent two days together, but the separation is already there. The basketball player returns to Lithuania to work as a coach.

Faced with these obstacles, the shy Viktoriya keeps smiling. Asked if she feels angry at Putin, she nods feverishly with her head and hammers “yes, oh yesss!” But with a smile. The young woman is happy to be safe, surrounded by the team even off the field. She pays tribute to the goodwill of the Belgians, but she does not hide it, she is only waiting for one thing, to return to the country as soon as possible. Replay with his teammates, make Prometey win again.


  • While many companies are interested in the idea of ​​†‹вЂ‹ hiring refugees from Ukraine, the milestone has not yet been exceeded.
  • Here and there, collaborations are already established.
  • We met Diaria, architect, and Viktoriya, basketball player. They arrived in Belgium in early March.
  • Diaria works like freelancer at OOOViktoriya was the subject of one transfer to Beavers of Braine-l’Alleud.

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