I was born in Riga, Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. Not long after my birth, USSR collapsed and Latvia became independent. Contrary to its pre-independence promises, the country’s leadership declared that the minorities are not to have equal access to citizenship, labour rights, property rights, etc. (of the three Baltic states, only Lithuania fulfilled the promise of equal rights). In a nutshell, this is how my family became stateless (or “non-citizens”).
Seeing that her children had little to no future under such circumstance, my mother took me and my brother to the United States. Therein, I finished high school and headed to Winnipeg, Canada, for undergraduate studies.
In autumn of 2008, I finished undergraduate studies and took a gap year to travel around the world, spending a lot of time in Germany, Spain, Ukraine, Russia, Latvia and Japan. After the trip, I returned to the U.S. and accepted an internship at the U.S. Senate with Senator Kent Conrad. This was an outstanding experience where I learned the inner workings of the world’s most powerful government—its good as well as bad sides. During the same time I also had the chance to work for the National Farmers Union, which was also a rewarding experience in allowing me to see the lobbying side of politics as well as giving me a view of the issues that the farmers in the U.S. faced.
When I worked in the U.S. Senate, I received an awaited call that I was accepted to enter graduate studies at Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, Canada. Finishing my work in the U.S. capital, I flew to Minnesota to pack, then drove for a week all the way to Vancouver, camping in nature in North Dakota, Montana and Washington State.
As I settled down in Vancouver I became actively involved in student affairs, competitive sports and volunteering. Not long after finishing my Master’s, I was taken on board by the Green Party of British Columbia to help with the provincial elections of 2013. After the election season, a global risk management firm IPSA International hired me for due diligence projects. I stayed with the company for almost two years, being central in revamping the firm’s methodology in respect to files from the post-Soviet countries. From early 2015 I also became increasingly active with the Canadian Red Cross, in the organization’s Disaster Management and First Contact programmes.
Despite the academic, professional and material success, life in North America was bittersweet for my taste. Even with having lived on the continent from childhood, I have resisted assimilating. Although for some it may be otherwise, I am not in agreement with hyper-individualism, materialism or of personal freedom being above other values. The differences and examples, of course, would be too numerable to list. As time went on, I began to come back to Europe on a more frequent basis, realizing that I felt much more at home in Europe than in the U.S. or Canada. This is what led me to the difficult decision to return to Europe in 2016 to start from scratch.
Returning to Europe has been the happiest decision of my life. Yet a major challenge awaited me on my return: the daunting task of overcoming discrimination due to my unusual status of being a stateless European. Ironically, I had clearer and more equal rights back in North America than on my home continent. I began to be involved with the International Organization for Migration, first as a participant in the organization’s summer programme on migration, then as a lecturer on the topic of statelessness in Europe.
After a few years of constant travel in search of more stable opportunities, I began to be drawn to Ukraine. Based on my ancestry, I applied for a special “Ukrainian abroad” status, which grants the holder many equal rights in Ukraine. As soon as I received the status, I flew to Ukraine to settle down. Recalling the tremendously positive experience with the Canadian Red Cross, I sought to re-enter the humanitarian field. I began to be increasingly involved in statelessness, becoming an associated member of European Network on Statelessness and a member of the core group of Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion’s global movement to end statelessness. Moreover, I have established Apatride Network (www.apatride.eu) with other stateless people in the European Union. We cooperate with major actors like the UNHCR, IOM, ENS and ISI, as well as a number of universities, in raising awareness on statelessness and bridging the gap between the stateless and international organizations that seek to help us.