A few days later, burlesque dancer Lolita Va Voom made her way to Berlin Central Station, where crowds of volunteers braced themselves for the impending arrival of tens of thousands of refugees.
And in Amsterdam, before her forthcoming move to Berlin, DJ Laure Dirven (stage name, Laura Croft) had trouble calculating. “I went into denial, straight into denial. And then the day after, it really fucking hit me.”
In the moving van from Amsterdam to Berlin, Laure actually got into action. “I sat next to the driver who came from Latvia. And he said to me: ‘Do you know that they need more gas at the border?’” While they were driving, Laure sent a message to some friends living in Berlin: Hey, I’m thinking of going to the Ukrainian border. Who wants to join me?
Laure does not see herself as an activist. For them, it just made sense to take in people trying to leave Ukraine and keep them safe. “I lived in Kyiv last year and met so many great people,” she recalls.
Social media proved essential in spreading Laure’s reach. After her Instagram Story asking for volunteers was passed around, Laure ended up with a 26-person team, only one of whom she knew personally. When they set out on their first drive, they had a convoy 13 cars long.
Without really knowing what she had done, Laure was suddenly the captain in a vital situation. Although leadership comes naturally to her—“I’m not a sayer, I’m a doer,” she explains—that doesn’t mean it’s always been easy for her. “The moment something goes wrong, I’m the leader and I have to solve it. That’s how I really found out…this is the next level of what I’ve done here, and I’m not capable at all, but we friggin’ did it.”
But she was. In all, Laure’s convoys evacuated 60 people from the Ukrainian border, including Desmond. Since the spring, Laure has continued to support Ukraine by DJing at fundraisers.
For Desmond, it wasn’t just the journey to Berlin, but the respect that was shown to him that inspired him the most. “Laure and her friends didn’t treat us like refugees, they treated us like we were important people. Like kings,” Desmond told me emotionally. “They treated us like family. I never knew her before. That was the reason why I told Laure as soon as I arrived in Berlin that I would like to accompany her back to Poland and see if I could help in any way. She helped me like I was her own brother, so I just wanted to help someone else the best I can. I have no money. But I have the strength to help.”
Ten years before fleeing Ukraine, Desmond envisioned starting his own organization, Heroes World: “It’s all about homeless kids, giving them shelter, giving them a skill that they can afford, being something for yourself.” His profound inversion of happiness is, he explained, “an eye opener”.
“You don’t know how it really feels until you find yourself in a situation like this,” mused Desmond. Being in a precarious situation and depending on the generosity of others can feel disempowering for those in need — something Desmond reiterated in our conversation. “I don’t want to be a burden to anyone at all,” he repeated. On the contrary: he still plans to work on the creation of Heroes World one day.