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 on temporary boats, but by plane directly from Beirut thanks to its 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 broad smile and sparkling 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 in his thirties. His story, however, is an abridged version of the struggle that has been going on for almost 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, left Palestine to seek refuge in Damascus. Despite the family’s homelessness, it was doing well and they settled in a large apartment in the middle of the Syrian capital, Damascus, “equivalent to the Champs Elysees,” as Marcel puts it.

Muhammad Zaki raised his children in Damascus with 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 obtained a doctorate in mechanical engineering, and there he met Marcel’s mother, Ludmila Leonova, who was also a mechanical engineering student.

In 1988, after completing their studies, Nabil and Ludmila left Ukraine to live in Damascus, but the family did not welcome the arrival of a “Russian” foreigner, who forced the lovers to go to the Palestinian refugee district Yarmouk, a much poorer 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 around a lot, but my father went to university, he was then in an enviable position, and my mother decided to take care of herself. dedicate to us and give piano lessons. ”

Courtesy of Marsel Zaki Abdo

In United Nations schools

“I spent my whole childhood in UN schools and UNRWA schools, the Palestinian Refugee Agency. I went to many of them. At that time it was one of the best schools in Damascus. We had a big space, “Chemistry laboratories, drawing workshops, and above all fully dedicated Palestinian teachers. The more educated Syrians were envious of our schools and wanted their children to sit there,” Marcel recalls.

As a child, Marcel learned to play the piano and guitar, played in an orchestra, and regularly visited theaters with his parents. He practiced acting and classical dance for 9 years and became a young actor. Between the ages of eight and sixteen, he appeared in 25 commercials for Syrian TV and played a role in an educational TV series broadcast by the Middle East. After his baccalaureate, he started studying architecture. And after seven years at the university, he graduated among the top ten in the country.

The war in Syria

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

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

“War again… Escape again… We decided that my parents should move 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 safest way. It was not easy. dad’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, feed himself or do the simplest things, so It was a hell of a journey for him. But they eventually reached 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 Marsel Zaki Abdo

A photo of Marcel in Paris

Marcel only left Damascus after the evacuation of his parents. With his Ukrainian passport, he was able to board a plane from Lebanon to France, enroll for a master’s degree in Grenoble, and modify his degree in urban architecture.

Since 2017, Marcel 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 France in all its corners. Since 2016, I have visited 21 countries in Europe.”

War in Ukraine and a new exile

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

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

“I was able to find a place for her to stay with friends who are not often in Paris,” says Marcel, “In the apartment the only thing she really needs is a piano.” Within days, Lyudmila received identification papers and state assistance. “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, Marcel manages a project in an architecture firm, after working for several years in interior design and scenography for national and international trade fairs.

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

In his new role as project manager, Marcel designs a school for the municipality of Ile-de-France. “I speak Arabic and Russian, my mother and father languages. 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 wish is to one day design schools for refugees, where children can learn, play, grow and thrive like other children, and to give back to what the UN and UNRWA schools have given him.

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