Palestine, Syria, Ukraine: The Life of Marcel, a Child of War – United Nations

Marcel has roots in three countries: Palestine, Syria and Ukraine. His family had been fleeing wars for three generations. Last stop: Paris.

Like many Syrian citizens, Marcel went to France in 2016, five years after the outbreak of the war. Not on foot or in primitive boats, but by plane directly from Lebanon thanks to his Ukrainian passport. “My family comes from three countries and even today I cannot live in any of them.” A few weeks ago, his mother Lyudmila managed to leave Ukraine to join him in Paris.

Marcel did not suffer from exile. He maintains that his childhood was wonderful and that today he lives a full life as a young man in his thirties. However, its history is a shortened version of the struggles that have been going on for nearly a century.

From Palestine to Syria

In 1948, with the creation of the State of Israel, Muhammad Zaki Abdo, Marcel’s grandfather, a merchant from Jaffa, left Palestine to seek refuge in Damascus, Syria. Although the family was uprooted, it was well settled: a large apartment in the center of Damascus, “equivalent to the Champs-Elysees,” says Marcel. Muhammad Zaki raised his children in Damascus, with the idea that they would soon return to his homeland Palestine, and in the meantime he was investing in his own education. His son Nabil and Marcel’s father studied in Luhansk, Donbass, Ukraine, where he received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. There he met Lyudmila Leonova, who is also a student in the same field.

In 1988, after studying, Nabil of her Palestinian/Syrian roots, and Ludmila from Ukraine, moved to Damascus. The family did not approve of Rossi’s arrival and the couple were forced to move to Yarmouk, a poorer Palestinian refugee neighbourhood. Marcel is the second child of Nabil and Ludmila. Born in 1992. “I have nothing but happy memories from my childhood. My older brother and I were two spoiled children. We moved around a lot, but my dad was studying at university, he had an enviable position at that time, and my mother decided to devote herself to us and give playing lessons to the piano “.

In UN schools

I have spent my entire childhood in United Nations schools, UNRWA schools and the United Nations Agency in Support of Palestine Refugees. At that time they were among the best schools in Damascus. We had space, chemistry laboratories, drawing workshops and, above all, Palestinian teachers who were completely devoted to their work. Whenever educated Syrians envy our schools and want to put their children there,” Marcel recalls.

Marcel learned to play the piano and guitar as a child. He played in a troupe and often went to the theater with his parents. He took acting and classical dance lessons for 9 years and became a small actor. Between the ages of eight and sixteen, he appeared in 25 commercials for Syrian TV and played in an educational TV series broadcast in the Middle East. After high school he started studying architecture. Seven years later, at university, he graduated as one of the top 10 in the country.

The war in Syria

However, war broke out in 2011. “In the first year the war seemed far away, but later on, our neighborhood in Damascus was the first in the capital to be attacked. We had to leave our apartment and go to my aunt’s house in the city center. I continued my studies, but my father started showing up. Early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Sick father, war and little hope for the future. “War again…need to flee again…we decided that father and mother would move to Ukraine. Although the father never wanted to apply for Ukrainian citizenship, because he had always dreamed of returning to Palestine, it was the way The easiest and safest. It wasn’t easy. The father at the time was so fragile with Alzheimer’s, he couldn’t do anything on his own. You had to go through Lebanon and you couldn’t wash, feed or do the simplest things. That trip was hell. , but they finally reached Bila Tserkva, south of Kyiv. The father died a few months later, he could not stand the change. “

Marcel did not leave Damascus until after the evacuation of his parents. With his Ukrainian passport, he was able to board a plane from Lebanon to France, apply for a master’s degree in Grenoble, and verify his degree in urban architecture. Since 2017, he has been living in Paris, which he knows like the back of his hand. “All the streets, squares, restaurants, I know everything. Better than most Parisians. I also know every corner of France. Since 2016 I have visited 21 countries in Europe.” Marcel’s older brother also lives in France.

War in Ukraine, a new exile

Marcel’s mother, who lives in Ukraine on a pension of about 40 euros a month, does the best she can with the help of her two children. On February 24, 2022, the war returned, and on February 28, four days after the Russian invasion, Lyudmila left Bela Tserkva. It took four days to reach Paris, with hours spent at the Ukrainian-Hungarian border and then at the Budapest train station.

“I was able to find housing for my mother with my friends who are not often in Paris. In the apartment there is the only thing you need … a piano,” says Marcel. “Within a few days, he got documents and help from the state. I remember the difficulties my Syrian friends faced when they arrived. He recalls.

Marcel is currently working as a project manager for an architecture firm, having worked for a few years in interior design and scenography for national and international trade fairs.

He was not lacking in work and did not need to use refugee status. As a student, and now as a worker, you have a valid residence permit, although renewal is not always easy. Now, in his new position, Marcel is developing a school in the administrative region “Ile-de-France”. I speak Arabic and Russian, the languages ​​of my mother and father, and I speak English and French, which are four of the six official languages ​​of the United Nations. I am a child of international solidarity.”

Marcel would like one day to create schools for refugees, where children can learn, play, grow and thrive like other children, and give him back what the UN and UNRWA schools have given him.

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