Ukrainian superstar and journalist Masha Efrosinia, who is a refugee in Germany after the war in her country, told Journalist Post editor-in-chief Yuksel Durgut about her experiences. In the 5th issue of the Journalist Post; Evaluating the Ukrainian-Russian war through the eyes of a mother, a wife, and a journalist, Efrosinia also touched upon the asylum process in Germany.
FROM A CHEERFUL LIFE TO BEING A REFUGEE…
Masha Efrosinina is a superstar in Ukraine. The 43-year-old journalist is one of famous TV hosts in her homeland. She has millions of followers on social media. The messages she publishes reach large audiences. Efrosinina starred in as many as 20 different programs on television channels, a theater play and 5 films. She presented the 50th Eurovision Song Contest in front of 150 million European television viewers in Kiev. She owns her own fashion brand and is the first female UN Goodwill Special Ambassador in Ukraine. She has climbed to the top of fame as well as in her profession, such as being the sought-after face of the fashion magazine Elle. Efrosinina’s family members are also influential people in Ukraine. Her husband Timur Khromayev is a former minister, and her sister is the spouse of former President Viktor Yushchenko.
We met her in Munich, Germany, where she had to seek asylum. Our interview with Masha took place in an emotional atmosphere. She took refuge in Germany with his son and daughter. Her eyes filled with tears every time she spoke about the husband she left behind, her remarkable life, her journalism career, and her popularity. We talked to Masha Efrosinina about her broken dreams and life plans in exile.
– The first shock wave of the war has passed. What has changed in Ukraine during this period? How is the situation now?
Masha Efrosinina – This is a difficult question to answer quickly. My perspective has changed a lot in this period. In the first days of the war, I was in a mixed mood. We were experiencing emotions that were difficult to live with, and that we had never known. I never thought people could feel so much hate. Panic, fear, and tension were beginning to appear in the Ukrainian people due to events they did not expect. People assumed that nothing would happen in Ukraine was very strong.
I recall the days when the war started to be talked about. Can you believe that tanks entered Kiev shortly? “This is a joke. This is a city of 5 million people, can tanks really get in here?” we asked each other. As if nothing had happened, I continued my regular television programs, and my children went to school. Our atmosphere did not even change. Perhaps, we were just a little calmer than before. It was like the silence before the storm, but this silence ended at five o’clock in the morning with the sounds of explosions.
– How did these sounds of explosions and being in the middle of the battle affect you?
ME- In November, we received the news that Russian troops arrived at the border. This was the first sound of the footsteps of the war. The topics of friends` meetings changed. Men began to discuss the war. I was having a busy time with New Year’s shows at the time. My job required me to travel a lot. I had a lot to do with my conferences, filming and my fans. We had planned a lot of new content on my Youtube channel. There was no event we did not attend in January, there was no city we were did not go to.
The winter months are very cold in Ukraine, therefore, they are travelling to warmer places in the winter months. This is also our tradition. But we did not go anywhere because my husband did not think it was the right time this year. With the month of February, peak period started over in my work life.
WE WERE WAKING UP FROM A NIGHTMARE WITH THE SOUND OF A BOMB
Have you ever had a terrible dream? When you wake up from a bad dream, you wonder if you are still dreaming. I was feeling that way at that moment. You cannot get out of that nightmare and get rid of its impact for a long time. When you wake up from a nightmare with the sounds of explosions, you realize that you are not in a dream. But you wish that what happened was a dream. You cannot understand it with your mind, with your heart. It can be felt much more deeply. This is a feeling that everything is over, but there is little hope that it will improve. But the end of my hopes has come.
Our new reality began in February. Our house got crowded. Our friends came to visit. My husband asked me to call people we know and who live in the eastern parts of the city. He thought they would be safe with us.
My phone was ringing constantly. All TV channels wanted to broadcast live. I did not know what to say during the broadcasts. I could only cry and say that I was scared. I could see on the television broadcasts how horrified my colleagues were. I do not remember very clearly after that.
– Even during the hot war, you continued to work as a journalist. And now you are a refugee in Germany. How is Masha now? What is she doing?
ME- I feel that Peaceful Masha remains in a dark hole, crying helplessly. Because everything I have done in my journalism career, in my interviews, in my life, in my relationships, my emotions have always been at the forefront. People who recognize me know that I am emotional. But I do not know how to explain it right now. Now, I’m a living dead.
All my emotions were paralyzed at once, and it was as if I disappeared into a deep pit. Nevertheless, I am not blind to the rising sun, the sky above me. And that still gives me hope. Because I saw the unity of the Ukrainian people and the strong stance of women in the most difficult times. This solidarity between people was really incredible. To see the unity of the people from the first moments of the war was beyond even my dreams.
As I left the war behind and headed west with my children, thousands of my followers, whom I did not know in person and watched me on TV, competed to offer a cup of tea or provide shelter. Since the Russians blocked the roads, we could cover short distances in 3-5 days. We spent every night in a different place. We slept together on the floor with families we had not known. We could not know how to be united without experiencing these difficulties.
WE HAD NO INTENTION OF LEAVING THE COUNTRY
– You were on your way to get away from the war, but you had to leave the country. Was it your plan all along?
ME- No. We were just planning to go to the West of Ukraine. It was never in our mind to leave the country. We spent 4 weeks in Lviv with our children. During this time, I volunteered to help refugees. I posted call to help videos from my social media accounts. I gave hundreds of interviews around the world, from Japan to India. The media was not blocked at that time. Most of the media outlets continued to TV broadcasts. The biggest support came from Georgia.
LET THE BOMBS KILL ME
We had to spend nights in shelters. Russia bombed at midnight when everyone was asleep. We were waking the children up and going down to the shelter. One time my son said, “I am not waking up, Mom! I want to die, let the bombs kill me.” Every night for weeks, when I was in a deep sleep, being woken up by the sound of a bomb and taken to the shelter that makes a person crazy. Sleeping problems were inevitable. I was shuttling between the shelter and where we were staying. After a while, I had to cancel my broadcasts upon my husband’s warnings.
I’M LIVING MY WORST FEAR,
I’M IN ANOTHER COUNTRY,
MY SCHEDULE IS EMPTY!
– You are currently in Germany as a refugee. How do you feel about that?
ME – I do not feel good at all. Everyone has some fears in life. One of my fears was living in another country. I was born in Crimea. I am totally Ukrainian. This country has given me the opportunity to reach millions of people, millions of women who follow me. I have always felt useful to my country. I am the first Ukrainian woman who is awarded with the title of ambassador to the United Nations. I had a successful life; I was doing what I loved and what I was good at. I was afraid of losing them.
My husband and I have traveled a lot. When we came to Germany, Austria or Italy; no one looked and did not recognize me! Of course, I did not want to live anywhere else. My husband was in politics before. He served as a minister during the Poroshenko presidency. He was a very successful businessman afterwards. He is a real genius in finance. He also never thought about living anywhere else. But my worst fears came true.
I started working at a young age. When I was 13, I taught English to a group of students aged between 7 and 11. This is how I earned my weekly allowance of 10 euros. I worked all my life. I come from an ordinary family in Crimea. I won everything by scraping my nails. I cannot imagine a life I lead without working. My schedule was full till the end of 2022. I have never had a life with a calendar that has been empty until today. We have never had a life where my kids killed time on the phone.
I LEFT MY BUILD-UP WITH A SMALL SUITCASE
I had a driver, and we had a cook. Everything in our life was very orderly. Masha means working life. My husband and I had been building our house where our children were born for the last five years with our savings while we were making our careers. I left all this with a small suitcase. For 125 days, we continued living in fear, worrying every day on the evening news to see if bombs had hit our house.
I do not know if we will be able to go back there. My husband, who has never touched a gun in his life, is now at war. When he voluntarily applied to join the army, he trained 8 hours a day for 2 months to be able to use weapons. We have no idea where he will be sent with the mobilization.
My German friends Daniel and Caroline, who brought me here, helped me to keep working and to continue the struggle for my country. The Germans did not withhold their support. I do all the work here alone. Food, dishes, cleaning, ironing. I have to find myself a job. I am waiting for job center to help me land a job.
I COULD NOT HAVE PREDICTED THE POWER OF PROPAGANDA BEFORE THE WAR
– Putin played his role well over the press in this process. He did his propaganda well. The media is completely under control. Putin also played this propaganda tool well against the public. Have you experienced similar problems in your publications?
ME- I do not really mean much to Russia. But they are even using me for their propaganda. They re-edit and publish my videos. For example, at the borders of Poland, Hungary and other countries, human traffickers deceive women by promising to help. These women handed in their passports and then disappeared. The ministry of defence said: “Do not give your passports to anyone. Move in groups. Do not let your children go anywhere with anyone!” and wanted this message to be announced. By the evening of the day, I posted this message, the video became a tool of Russian propaganda. In the news, they made it look like as if Ukrainians raped and kidnapped women at the border.
INFORMATION WAR IS ON ALONG WITH THE HOT WAR
My uncle and his children live in Russia. No one called and asked about how I am doing. After a while, he called me once and said, “Our last name is the same, I thought if I wrote to you, they would arrest me.” It’s like they have been hypnotized. There was not a single message from my colleagues, whom I know from television and publications. A few of them did not want it to be known what they had written to me. This is unbelievable. The same language, the same culture, yet how far we are from each other. We did not anticipate the power of propaganda before the war. Now we get it. In addition to the hot war, there is also an “Information war”. This is one of the main things that needs to be fought. Fake channels, fake news..
SILENCE IS A BETRAYAL TO MY COUNTRY
– In Turkey, in Russia, in China, in your neighboring country Belarus, journalists are in prisons because of their opposition to the regime. We are also creating this magazine together with many exiled journalists. These journalists are now far from their homes, just like you. We were talking about Putin’s propaganda. This propaganda is carried out through television channels, newspapers, that is, the media. How important is journalism to you?
ME- I’m talking to people from Washington to Syria. They are all fighting for peace and women’s rights. When I tell them about the war, their eyes are slowly closing and that makes me feel that I should shut up now. When I was telling about what happened once, I realized that and I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to bore you.” A colleague said to me: “You can’t stop talking! Because that means you betrayed your country.”
To stay in Germany is not to betray your country, but not to talk about the war is. As a journalist, I must continue to speak under any circumstance. We need to talk to governments. We should talk to big companies like Instagram and Facebook so that they do not censor the images we share under the pretext that they are “sensitive content”. What you censor as sensitive content is what is happening in my country! This experience gives me the strength to keep talking.
When I first started doing interviews in my career, I met with a famous and experienced journalist. He told me, “You do not know where you will be in the future, but journalism is not where you are, it is inside you. It doesn’t matter where you are. Do not lose that passion inside. Journalism is what reaches you is to work with your information and analysis to separate the right from the wrong for humanity. Journalism is the essence in you. You should act accordingly. Who you are, where you live, your wealth or poverty, your feelings doesn’t effect your action. Do not lose interest in everything. Maintain your appetite for getting to the truth in happenings. What can you give to those who watch you, to those who follow you? Are you able to give them a perspective as well, or are you just working for yourself?.”
Journalists like me, who have lost everything and started from scratch, who continue their professions in the new countries they live in, should always remember that the essence of our profession is to convey the truth to people.
– Do you have a message that you would like to convey to your journalist colleagues who are still working in Ukraine? There are still active journalist organizations in Ukraine.
ME- They are doing an epic job. As soon as the war began, the television channels ceased to compete and became one body. Now, whichever channel you press from the remote control, the channel comes up with a broadcast established with the same solidarity. Journalists conduct a 24-hour broadcast. They are broadcasting from a single center without a competitive environment. I am proud of the publications documenting the war. We are tired, but we have to hold on. We must carry this hope within us. Rockets, explosions make a person exhausted. If we start to lose hope and faith that victory will come, it will be bad for us.
MY DAUGHTER TURNED 18 THE DAY THE WAR STARTED
USA said that on the 16th of February, Russian troops will begin their attacks. My daughter told me the news; “Mom, it is my birthday that day. I’m turning 18.” And I told her, ”The war will not start.” I could never believe the news that war was at just around the corner. As if nothing is happening, we celebrated my daughter’s birthday on February 16. We had a beautiful day. I went to work again in the morning. Until February 23, I was shooting until midnight for my comedy show. My husband and friends came to my show that day. It was a fun program. My husband told me that the atmosphere was very huggermugger on the way back. He said we need to pack our passports and emergency bags in case something happens. I didn’t know what to put in it. I started preparing the bags the next morning when I started hearing sirens. Everything changed at an instant.
I WANTED TO STAY IN UKRAINE INSTEAD OF MY HUSBAND
The messages of support I posted were aimed at the Russians. I believed that if millions of people took to the streets, Putin would not be able to do anything. My husband was taken to the army after a while. The mobilization affected the children the most. We had no choice but to leave the country. I also wanted to stay in my country. I told my husband to go to western Europe with the children. I wanted to stay instead. By law, men cannot leave the country. It was a very difficult decision for us, but we emigrated thinking about our children.
MASHA ASSOCIATION IS WITH WOMEN IN UKRAINE
We are growing the Masha Association, which is active in Ukraine. We are helping women and children as much as we can. We are trying to get people out of the occupied areas in Ukraine.
YOU SHOULD NOT FORGET THE SUFFERING PEOPLE
I accept all the proposals that can make our voice heard throughout Europe. But people are bored and tired of hearing about Ukraine. I can understand that. When the upheaval started in Donbas in 2014, we felt the same way after a while. My children also express that they are bored from the subject we talk about. I think it is normal for people in Europe to think this way for us now. There is everything you can have here. The markets are full of food. You can reach what you want. I do not blame anyone, but how can you forget the people who are suffering next to you? The whole country had been renewed to prove to Europe that we are an advanced society. We were close to entering the EU. A ridiculous man has come and thinks that he can take all away from us because we are Ukrainian, and we are after our freedom. I cannot imagine that happened in the 21st century.