Ethnic Germans flock to Ukraine

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NOVOFEDOROVKA - Worried by rising nationalism in Central Asia, and uncertain about what a new life would mean in Germany, many ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union are moving instead to Ukraine.

'For us, Germans from Central Asia, Ukraine is offering the chance of a new life,' said 22- year-old Vladislav Chemuz, who has arrived in this southern Ukrainian village, close to the Black Sea.

Ukraine, unlike Russia, is welcoming these ethnic Germans, whose parents were deported by Stalin from the Ukraine and Volga regions to Siberia and Central Asia.

Ivan Schwartz, a local official for the German-Ukrainian fund set up to assist with the migration, said: 'We are preparing to receive 300,000 Germans. More than a million ethnic Germans living in Kazakhstan and tens of thousands from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan could emigrate as well.'

The first to arrive - about 2,000 over the past month - are staying in makeshift camps in the countryside. One camp is at Novofedorovka, where 24 containers are lined up on the parched grass, each with two beds and a small living space, but neither electricity nor running water.

Men, who have left their families behind until houses are built, are living there using candles at night and fetching water from a reservoir.

'The first two years will be very hard,' said Franz Kessler, who at age 63 is the oldest in the group and also the only one to speak a little German. A tunnel-builder in Tajikistan, he has decided to turn his hand to farming.

Each family should receive a quarter of a hectare (2.4 acres) and the money to build a house, said Mr Schwartz. Those that became farmers would receive 50 hectares . It would be the rich black soil that had given Ukraine its reputation as one of the former Soviet Union's best wheat-producing regions.

But Edward Brakovski, 34, said: 'We haven't yet received a single rouble, nor any material to build the houses. We live with the money and the provisions we brought with us. After that, only time will tell.'

Many of the villages in the region, with names such as Blumenfeld or Alexanderfeld, were inhabited by ethnic Germans before the war.

The farmers who lived there were invited into Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries to develop the region's agriculture. But in 1941, after Hitler launched his invasion of the Soviet Union, Stalin, fearing that ethnic Germans might turn into a fifth column, had them all deported to the east, leaving many villages deserted.