Up to 60 refugees are being housed and supported by Bridges over Borders—a new, artist-led organisation in Berlin formed in response to structural disadvantages faced by POC and LGBTQ+ refugees coming from Ukraine into Germany.
The group formed after members drove to the Ukrainian-Polish border and witnessed refugees from marginalised groups facing discrimination and obstruction at checkpoints. With over 30 members, Bridges over Borders brings together Berlin’s arts and culture community with social and legal workers to provide long-term and sustainable support for refugees.
For multidisciplinary artist Maison Hefner, who is part of the collective, the cultural connection between the Ukrainian and German capitals runs deep: “We have a lot of friends who are Ukrainian, there is a strong connection between the music and art scenes in Berlin and Kyiv. It felt like a natural impulse to support our friends”. He elaborates that in a situation that is already difficult enough, it was crucial to support marginalised groups who would experience "additional difficulties by providing them with a safe environment".
The organisation is providing essential support such as finding housing solutions, financial help, clothing, as well as assistance in navigating the German bureaucratic process.
Nkwo Philip, originally from Nigeria, was studying economics in Kyiv when the Russian invasion intensified. He was connected with Bridges over Borders after arriving at the Berlin Central train station. “They’ve been taking good care of me," he says. "They gave me shelter. They gave me food and also gave me some small cash for my upkeep."
According to Christoph Siegert, who is a member of the Bridges over Borders collective and also heads Berlin-based record label, Voitax, marginalised communities are the most at risk in emergency situations. "The people that will be most vulnerable when fleeing will be people of colour, citizens of the global south will most certainly suffer major discrimination along the way".
He adds that the organisation intends to continue to support all people fleeing conflict after the Ukraine crisis "Not far from the same border, between Belarus and Poland, there have been people from Afghanistan fleeing ongoing conflicts in their homelands, who've been basically left to die somewhere between the forests of Belarus and Poland since 2021. We’ll also continue to see people fleeing the destruction of their homes in the future, as we have been witnessing for many years in Syria, Yemen, Libya and multiple other Middle East and African nations. We’re hoping to carry on by actively pointing out that these conflicts deserve a similar amount of attention and solidarity as we’re currently witnessing in Ukraine, and by this would like to expand our support structures with other networks."
Bridges over Borders joins a wave of events and initiatives in Berlin’s arts and culture world seeking to support marginalised groups from Ukraine. The art-fashion label Souvenir has collaborated with Dust Magazine to produce a statement hoodie with all proceeds going to Ukrainian refugees from marginalised groups (as well as children) raising more than €13,000 from initial sales.