World traveler on the war in Ukraine: ‘Even if the Russians bombed, it kept Odessa’

“I’m a tramp.” And so, in Spanish, Ibrahim Mohamed, 71, introduces himself after extending his lean hand to the reporter. He is a dark-skinned ascetic who has all the time in the world to talk. a Rara Avis In Odessa these days Bombing shakes Russia And where it is difficult to meet a foreigner who is not a humanitarian, military or journalist. Mehmet has been doing somersaults for nearly half a century, since 1977. Until the recent attacks on the city on the shores of the Black Sea where he lives, five times in one week, made him change his plans.

“I paid the rent until August 31,” he said in the early hours of Sunday morning in a letter to this newspaper, shortly after several rockets landed near the motel where he lives in the historic city centre. The life of this American man of Egyptian descent is a continuous journey without a fixed direction of the rhythm of pleasure that he says he gets from enjoying freedom and happiness away from money. He was born in Alexandria (Egypt) and considers himself an Aswan Nubian. “I want to know the Canary Islands and do the Camino de Santiago,” he affirmed on July 13 as he recalled his visits to Spain and gave details, such as that of Seville, that refer to a memory that proves years and kilometers. But, what does he draw in the war in Ukraine?

Dream Hostel was a backpacker’s haven on the shores of the Black Sea when Russia launched its grand invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Far from the luxuries of other Odessa hotels, bunk beds, colorful hallways, common areas, and a narrow entrance through an adjoining courtyard make it ideal for backpackers on the go without haste and without an over-budget. This is the case of Muhammad. He was dreamer (Dreamer) More among those who stayed at the inn when the war hit Odessa, but decided to stay.

“In the early morning of February 24, my colleague from Dnipro Dream Hostel called me to tell me that the invasion had begun. At 7 am, none of the eight staff members were here anymore. They all left and I was alone at the front. In those days, long-term travelers from Japan, the United States, and Australia were staying…” I estimate there were about 20 foreigners who were here when the invasion began. Among them, 17 left in the first week,” the official adds. Finally, only Ibrahim Muhammad remained.

Giorgi Ploshitsia and his wife, Veronica, are pictured July 13 at the Dream Hostel’s reception, located just meters from the Orthodox cathedral, which was bombed by Russia on Sunday.Louis Vega

“This is crazy,” laments this man, who recently cut off the braids that hung from his head and beard to just below his waist. “I can’t see the children running to safety to escape the bombs, what can be done? This world is terrible, so many people are killing each other.”

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The meeting took place with Ibrahim Muhammad A few days before Russia started bombing Odessa. This is the exception among Ukrainians who have fled other war zones and have been staying since the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a non-governmental organization with extensive experience worldwide in crisis situations, began cooperating with the shelter. Muhammad explains that his life is a continuous journey, “without haste and with long pauses.” This is how he arrived in Ukraine in 2016 and how the Russian invasion caught him in this particular country. And he emphasizes that among the dozens of countries he visited – “the number is not important” – Russia is not.

His income is limited to a pension that comes to him from the US government. “I live here on a few dollars,” he admits. In the hostel he pays 2800 UAH per month (just under 70 euros) for a place in a bunk bed. “I cook there. I always eat something simple,” he adds, gesturing to the upper floors of the establishment to highlight his semi-frustrated lifestyle.

The bunk beds of these voyagers have now been occupied for several months Ukrainians have been displaced within their country because of the war. About 7,000 people have gone through these 17 months. “Now we give shelter to 80 people. Many temporary refugees from regions like Kherson or Mykolaiv (near Odessa) after the liberation of those lands,” Ploshitsya explains. The largest occupation occurred when the local forces advanced towards Kherson in a counterattack the previous November and pushed the invaders towards the left bank of the Dnieper River. “We have up to 100 people at one time, and some of them sleep in the corridors,” he adds.

The general rule is that they are trans people rebuilding their lives away from their home cities. They usually stay at the hostel for about a month, says the person in charge, until they can find rented accommodation or a job or get their papers back to try to normalize their lives before management.

Giorgi Bloshchitsia laments that the authorities left them alone after promising to help them run the hostel in the first months of the invasion. He maintains that they were promised cooperation that never came. And confirms “zero”. “The first three months we manage on our own, with my wife, my mom, and an employee,” he says. The situation did not begin to normalize until the NRC.

NCR maintains a facility with four IDP Transit Centers in Odessa, three of which correspond to three Dream Hostels from the Bloshchitsia-owned franchise. The capacity is 200 people and up to 250 in case of emergency. They provide accommodation for up to a month in exceptional cases. The NRC offers one hot meal per person per day and free legal and psychological counseling, explains Dmitry Zvyadadze, NRC’s Southern Ukraine region chief.

The person in charge of the hostel shows the only thing he ended up receiving from the authorities: a diploma of gratitude to the owners and staff of the hostel for keeping away the displaced, signed by Tetyana Markova, who was in charge of culture and tourism in the Odessa City Council. Bloshchitsia and his wife, Veronika, can’t help but laugh when he wryly returns it to the reception desk as if it were a treasure.

And what about Ibrahim Muhammad? The traveler does not mind changing his destination, but he realizes that his economic ability prevents him from settling in places beyond his modest budget. He repeats several times that he would like to return to Spain, where he has not been in over a decade, though he does not understand the trip as a weekend excursion at the pace of rushing tourists.

In a letter, after being asked if the recent Russian bombing of Odessa had changed his plans, he simply said that he was not clear about what to do after 31 August. Not long before, the invading army had struck hard and not far from the Dream Hostel the Orthodox cathedral and dozens of buildings in the city center, which had been on the UNESCO list of heritage sites to protect since February. “I would like to go to the Canary Islands, Munich, the United States, Egypt…but maybe I’ll still stay in Odessa,” he ventures. Although he declared at one point that he was “tired and already retired,” bombs and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war did not seem to determine the course of his journey.

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