Andreas Tölke accompanies refugee Ukrainians. photo: andreas tölke
05/15/2022, 10:56 am05/15/2022, 10:59 am
Andreas Tölke worked as a journalist for over 30 years – until he did so in 2015 Refugees took in and from that point on devoted himself entirely to helping refugees. The 61-year-old is now a board member of the NGO “Be an Angel”. In recent years, the association has mainly looked after refugees Syria and Afghanistan. In 2021 they were awarded the Federal Cross of Merit.
Since the escalation of the Ukraine war at the end of February, Tölke has regularly traveled to the Moldovan border with “Be an Angel” and evacuated Ukrainians who had fled.
watson: Andreas, you’ve been going to Moldova with the organization “Be an Angel” since March 4th. What are you doing?
Andreas Toelke: We’re evacuating them People from the Moldovan capital Chisinau. Up to five buses drive towards Germany every day. But we also drive from Chisinau to the Ukraine and evacuate people from there. That’s about two buses a day. We also support hospitals and hospitals where we try to bring in as much medical equipment and medicine as possible.
What is particularly needed there?
The biggest problem, and this sounds ridiculous to us, is painkillers. Many injured die because of the pain. For this and for the evacuation of people with disabilities, we continue to need an incredible amount of money.
What made you want your Career quit as a journalist and devote yourself entirely to helping refugees?
I’ve been a journalist for 30 years and I’ve always felt that I’ve taken a great deal from the world and given relatively little back. But I didn’t know: Where can I go with my offer of help if I’m constantly on the road? And then it happened by accident in 2015.
“In the end I had accommodated over 400 people”
What happened then?
i have a big one apartment. At that time, around 1300 people came here every day Berlin at. I then called an organization and said: “Then just send me some.” And so I had contact with refugees for the first time. Suddenly they were sitting in my apartment – that went on for more than six months. In the end I had accommodated a total of 400 people. It was actually thought that the German state would then take over – it only did that insufficiently. That’s why organizations like “Be an Angel” are needed to support people.
“Be an Angel” is an NGO that supports refugees in Germany. The aim of the organization is to integrate refugees into society as quickly as possible so that they are independent and self-reliant. Means: “Be an Angel” accompanies them on visits to the authorities, supports them in finding accommodation and places the refugees in jobs or training.
You say you feel like you’ve taken too much of the world. Do you have a bad conscience that you want to compensate now?
It’s not about my personal karma points account for me. I think everyone does what he or she can do. If you do it with a pure heart and enthusiasm and believe that you can make a difference in this world, you will keep doing it until this world is great.
Temporary reception accommodation with hospital beds is being built in Moldova.photo: andreas tölke
It could be some time before the world will be great. How do you deal with this mental stress?
In 2015 I often cried in the shower in the morning, came out to my guests and was the big, strong German hero. The one who tries to support people. After two months I looked for a psychologist. I went there because I had to go somewhere with my topics. But it’s not about me at all. It’s about people who fled the war in Afghanistan. Coming from the war in Syria. They are much, much worse off than me.
But helping can also be exhausting.
I’m lucky: for one thing, I’m almost 62 years old now and already have a bit of life experience behind me. You get a little more relaxed there. And on the other hand, I have relatively good resilience. I can deal with such situations quite well.
How did the psychological support help you in your work?
It was important to make it clear to myself: How do I set myself apart? This is probably the biggest issue for everyone who is now helping Ukrainians. So how needy is someone? How much do I have to support someone? How much do I want to support someone? Answering these questions is very, very difficult.
And how do you do that in reality?
You have to make clear distinctions when you’re taking people into your home. It must be communicated clearly: “I can do that. I like doing that. I don’t do that. Please don’t want the children to play. I don’t feel like doing a basic course on Ukrainian folk music because the volume is so high.” If you treat each other as adults, then the other person can also say: “I want this or that from you.” Then it works.
Refugee Ukrainians get on buses in Moldova that take them to Germany.photo: andreas tölke
You said you’ve taken in around 400 people since 2015. Is there a particular fate that sticks in your mind?
Yes, that really was the scariest story to this day: An Afghan father sat with his wife and two children at my kitchen table and showed me the photos of the crossing from Turkey to Greece. There was a baby in the photo. And then the father said the smugglers threw the baby overboard because it was screaming, attracting the patrols.
I then asked him why he still had the photo at all. And then he said: “This is the last thing I have of my child”. I also asked him why he didn’t jump after it – a stupid question, I know. He said: “Afghanistan is a landlocked country. We can’t swim, we never learned to swim.”
“Putin is waging a war of terror, which means he’s shooting at residential buildings, clinics, kindergartens. And this terror is digging into people.”
Tatjana Kiel, the manager of the Klitschkos, which organizes aid deliveries to Ukraine, said that the longer people were exposed to a state of war, the worse off they got. How are the people who are now fleeing Ukraine doing?
I see it similarly. War is always cruel and disgusting. And war should be abolished and forbidden. Putin is waging a war of terror, which means he’s shelling residential buildings, clinics and kindergartens. It doesn’t matter. And this one terror grinds its way into people. It’s an unbelievable fear that prevails.
How do you assess the current situation on site?
From Moldova, we particularly support the area in southern Ukraine. We all saw the pictures from Mariupol. And it goes on. Now Mykolaiv, the city outside of Odessa, is also being bombed. Putin is waging a disgusting war of terror against ordinary people: women, mothers and children. You can’t imagine what it’s like to be in the shoes of a local Ukrainian. We’re getting calls for help that people have been living in subway stations for two months and they haven’t had water. The situation has become even more dramatic.
“So presumptuous that I can only squirm with disgust.”
With these insights: How did you feel when Alice Schwarzer, Dieter Nuhr, Juli Zeh and other Germans celebrities published their open letter to Olaf Scholz?
I find this sofa whoops, bangers, faction, who want to tell the Ukrainians from Germany how to create peace, cynical. It is presumptuous on the part of these miserable creatures that I can only squirm with disgust.
What can “normal” average citizens do to help refugee Ukrainians?
You have to take care of yourself and ask yourself: how much can I trust myself to do, how much time do I have and what are my capacities and skills? For example, if the competence lies in communication, I can help NGOs social media support or talk to people about the topic. These are little things that sound ridiculous. But they are just as important as being there and evacuating 45 people in wheelchairs on a bus.
“It’s about Ukraine, but not only. Our freedom is threatened.”
That means we can all help – even without much effort?
It’s important to talk about it and say, “I have an attitude and I find this war pathetic and disgusting.” We have to support Ukraine because Ukraine is our last bastion before Putin is here in Berlin. Yes, it’s about Ukraine, but not only. It’s about us too. And that has to get into your head. We have to understand that. And we have to explain this to anyone who hasn’t understood: Our freedom is threatened. That’s what you can do. And everyone can do that.
How is the willingness to help at the moment?
We all get tired very quickly. We saw that in 2015 and 2016. Then there was the frowned upon “teddy bear throwers” and the mood changed. And even now, the willingness to donate to the Ukrainians has already declined. Our organization lives only on donations. But we have to go on and give help because the war is still going on. When the war is over, everyone can go back to Mallorca.