Child of Wars: Marcel’s Life Between Palestine, Syria, and Ukraine

Like many Syrians, Marcel arrived in France in 2016 five years after the start of the war. Not on foot or by makeshift boats, but by plane directly from Beirut thanks to his Ukrainian passport.

“My family comes from three countries, but today I can not live in any of them.”

A few weeks ago, his mother, Lyudmila, managed to leave Ukraine to join him in Paris.

With his wide smile and shining eyes, Marcel’s face does not reflect the tragedies of exile. He himself confirms that he had a wonderful childhood, and that today he has a full life as a young man around thirty. However, his story is an abbreviated version of battles that have continued for nearly a century.

From Palestine to Syria

With the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, Marcel’s grandfather, Muhammad Zaki Abdo, a wealthy merchant from Jaffa, fled Palestine to seek refuge in Damascus. Despite the family homelessness, she was fine and settled in a large apartment in the center of the Syrian capital, Damascus, “equivalent to the Champs Elysees,” as Marcel says.

Muhammad Zaki raised his children in Damascus in the hope of a speedy return to their homeland, Palestine, and in the meantime, he invested in their education. His son, Nabil, Marcel’s father, studied in Luhansk in the Donbass region of Ukraine where he received a doctorate in mechanical engineering and there met Marcel’s mother, Ludmila Leonova, who was also a mechanical engineering student.

In 1988, after graduating, Nabil and Ludmila moved from Ukraine to live in Damascus, but the family did not welcome the arrival of a “Russian” foreigner, forcing the lovers to move to the Palestinian refugee neighborhood of Yarmouk, a much poorer area. neighborhood.

Marcel was born in 1992 and is the second son of Nabil and Ludmila. “I have nothing but happy memories from my childhood. My older brother and I were spoiled. We moved a lot, but my father was teaching at the university, he was in an enviable position at the time and my mother decided t “He was dedicated to us and we teach piano.”

Courtesy of Marcel Zaki Abdo

In United Nations schools

“I spent my whole childhood in the schools of the UN and the schools of UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency. I went to many of them. At the time it was one of the best schools in Damascus. We had a large space, chemistry labs, drawing workshops. and above all fully committed Palestinian teachers. The most educated Syrians envied our schools and wanted to put their children there, “Marcel recalls.

As a child, Marcel learned to play the piano and guitar, played in a group, and often attended theaters with his parents. He practiced classical acting and dance for 9 years and became a young actor. From the age of eight to sixteen, he appeared in 25 commercials for Syrian TV and played a role in an educational television series that aired throughout the Middle East. After graduation, he began studying architecture. And after seven years at university he graduated in the top ten in the country.

War in Siria

The war broke out in 2011. “In the first year the war was a bit far. Then our neighborhood in Damascus was the first neighborhood attacked in the capital. We had to leave the apartment and go to my aunt’s house in the city center. I continued my studies, but the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease began to appear. to my father. “

A sick father, war and little hope for the future. Marcel’s older brother lived in France and had been in a relationship with a Frenchwoman for several years.

“War again … Go again … We decided to move my parents to Ukraine. Although my father never wanted to apply for Ukrainian citizenship because he had always dreamed of returning to Palestine, it was the easiest and most convenient way. safe It was not easy Father’s health at that time was very late due to Alzheimer’s disease He could not do anything himself They had to go through Lebanon He could not wash, eat or do the simplest things, “It was a devilish journey for him. But they finally got to Bila Tserkva, south of Kiev. My father passed away a few months later. He could not stand the change.”

A photo of Marcel in Paris

Courtesy of Marcel Zaki Abdo

A photo of Marcel in Paris

Marcel did not leave Damascus until after the evacuation of his parents. Using his Ukrainian passport, he was able to board a plane from Lebanon to France, enroll in a master’s degree in Grenoble, and change his degree in urban architecture.

Since 2017, Marcel lives in Paris, whom he knows as the back of his hand. “All the streets, the squares, the restaurants, I know everything, better than most Parisians. I know France in all its parts. Since 2016, I have visited 21 countries in Europe.”

The war in Ukraine and a new exile

In Ukraine, with her small pension of about 40 euros a month and the financial support of her two sons, Marcel’s mother, Lyudmila, lived as well as possible. But on February 24, 2022 the war knocked again on Ludmila’s doors. Four days after the Russian occupation, Bila Tserkva left.

It took him another four days to reach Paris, after spending long hours on the Ukraine-Hungary border and then at the Budapest train station.

“I could find shelter with friends who are not often in Paris,” says Marcel. “In the apartment, the only thing she needs is a piano.” Within a few days, Lyudmila received identification letters and state aid. “I remember the suffering of my Syrian friends when they arrived,” Marcel added. “They were not treated the same.”

Marcel and his mother Ludmila in Brussels, Belgium

UNRIC / Fabienne Pompey

Marcel and his mother Ludmila in Brussels, Belgium

Marcel and his mother Ludmila in Brussels, Belgium, by UNRIC / Fabienne Pompey

Today, Marsel runs a project at an architecture firm, having worked for several years in interior design and scenography for national and international fairs.

He never lacked a job and never needed to suffer like a refugee. As a student, then as an employee he has a valid residence permit, although any renewal makes him sweat and get nervous.

In his new role as project manager, Marcel is designing a school for the municipality of Ile-de-France. “I speak Arabic and Russian, the languages ​​of my mother and father. I also speak English and French, which are four of the six official languages ​​of the United Nations. I am a product of international solidarity.”

Marcel’s desire is to one day design schools for refugees, where children can learn, play, grow and thrive like other children, and return them to the schools of the UN and UNRWA. have given.

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