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Former tour guide in Lviv starts over in Germany

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. To Lviv now, a city in western Ukraine that has been peaceful for much of the war. But over the weekend, Russian missiles rattled Lviv residents when they struck military targets there. Lviv is home to Ivanka Gonak. She worked as a tour guide in her beloved home city for 15 years. Gonak says she knows the story behind practically every stone in every wall of the city and has written guidebooks about Lviv. We spoke to her just a couple days before she and her three children boarded the first train evacuating people out of Lviv. They are in southern Germany now, which is where Ivanka Gonak joins us today. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

IVANKA GONAK: Thank you so much.

CHANG: Well, thank you for being with us again. Where exactly in southern Germany are you right now? I understand that you and your kids are in a hotel.

GONAK: Yes, we are in a beautiful luxury hotel. We were welcomed here by the owner in this small resort city surrounded with mountains and by the lake.

CHANG: How has it been adjusting to life in Germany for you and your kids?

GONAK: Well, we had relatives here in Munich. It's around one-hour drive from this town. First couple of days, they provided us the shelter. But then they welcomed another family and we had to find a new place.

CHANG: Yeah. May I ask, what is it like to leave a city that you were so connected to behind? I mean, you made it your job to show people every day what is beautiful about Lviv. What is it like to walk away from your home city?

GONAK: It's absolute tragedy, absolute tragedy. It's like all my life, I was investing in the city and I was deeply - I'm still - I am connected to my city no matter what. And I'm planning to go back. My children - they still cry about Lviv. Even the youngest - she's 3 years old. And she says...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Crying).

CHANG: I think I hear her.

GONAK: ...I want - yeah, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: It's OK if you need to take a moment.

GONAK: That's OK.

CHANG: OK.

GONAK: She says, Mom, when we're back to my kindergarten with my favorite teacher, with my favorite children? And when those [expletive] enemies are going back to their country? She's 3, and she already understands so many things. We all want home.

CHANG: Well, at the moment, what are your plans for the near future for you and your kids?

GONAK: There's two sides of the coin. My kids are very happy here - the utmost, warm welcome that we received here.

CHANG: You said there were two sides to the coin. What's the other side? It sounds like your kids are, generally speaking, happy for now. But what's the other side of the coin for you?

GONAK: Well, I'm not happy. I am absolutely not happy because I don't feel like I can be a financial burden for Germany. And I don't want to be that financial burden. So in about a month, I'm about to search for a job. And I cannot do that scientific work here as I was doing in Lviv. The guide has to feel the place with heart, and I'm just looking around. But we hope that in two, three or four months, the war will be over. We hope so. And I'm about to take the under-qualified job in the hotel or tourism industry, and part of my salary would go to Ukrainian army, and I can be a soldier here.

CHANG: Well, Ivanka, when this war does eventually end, do you see yourself moving back to Lviv one day?

GONAK: I hope yes. I hope yes. I'm determined. So I know that life is unpredictable. But I hope that I'll have the chance to come back to Ukraine because Ukraine needs me and I need it. Yeah.

CHANG: That is Ivanka Gonak, recently a tour guide in Lviv, speaking to us from southern Germany, where she now lives. Thank you so much for being with us again, Ivanka.

GONAK: Thank you so much as well. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.