With all the terrible things happening in Ukraine, it's wonderful to hear the occasional good news story emanating from it.
A cry of joy rang out as the two young women – one reeling from a 34-hour trek out of Ukraine and the other just off a late-night work shift – spotted each other on a pavement in Catalonia, Spain. The reunion had been years in the making, the final details hastily hashed out as Russian tanks rolled on to the streets of Ukraine.
“The moment was both happy and sad,” said Angelika Batiai, 24. “Here I was seeing my sister again after 20 years, but on the other hand I had just left my family and friends in a country at war.”
The half-sisters had spent the first years of their lives together in the southern Ukrainian village of Nikolaev, leaning on each other as they grew up with only an absentee mother to care for them. Sadly, family problems left them separated soon after. Five-year-old Angelika was sent to live with an aunt and Tatyana, six, with a grandmother before ending up in state care.
They begged to be kept together, recalled Tatyana Kluge García, 25. “But economically it was impossible, Angelika’s aunt couldn’t afford to take us both in.”
At the age of eight, Tatyana was adopted by a family in the Spanish city of Girona, near Barcelona, trading her arduous beginning for a new family, country and slate of languages.
Even as her command of Ukrainian faded, her sister remained constantly in her thoughts, and searching social media for contact. More than 2,000 miles away in Ukraine, Angelika was doing the same. When she stumbled across a Facebook profile in 2019 that showed a beaming young woman in Spain, she was certain she had found Tatyana. “I just knew it was my sister.”
In February, as Russian troops amassed on the border of Ukraine, Tatyana made a frantic call to Angelika. “I told her that here they’re saying that there’s going to be a war,” she said.
Angelika sought to temper her sister’s fears. “I was hoping all of this would blow over and everything would be fine,” she said. “But it just got worse and worse.”
Angelika canvassed those around her, but her loved ones were determined to stay. “It was a very difficult decision because I didn’t want to leave my family,” she said. “I was also very worried about how I was going to get there on my own – it was a long way.”
In the end it was a message from Tatyana’s mother, reinforcing that she would be safe in Spain, that convinced Angelika. And, sure enough, many arduous miles later, the two sisters were reunited.
For Angelika, being back with her sister was a “wonderful, unbelievable feeling”. The joy, however, was rivalled by the angst of leaving her loved ones in a country at war.
“I just can’t stop thinking about it.”