Natasha and Sergei are an ordinary migrant family in the business of dealing with extraordinary circumstances. They are the Italian branch of Funeralia - a transnational Ukrainian company that took up a much-needed niche - returning deceased migrants back to Ukraine. In their family-like style, they call themselves “funeraltsi” – meaning the people of Funeralia.
Natasha (45), a former ballet choreographer, quit her teaching career in Kyiv 8 years ago and came to help her husband in his then failing undertaking business. She takes up major hard work, washes and dresses the bodies, and prepares all paperwork, giving generous emotional support to families in each case. Sergei (58) says this job is too hard, he drives Natasha to their clients and transports the bodies. They live from month to month in a shared accommodation on the outskirts of Milan, and spend most days in their black minivan. They think of their job as a higher mission. They are always together and always alone: their work and their relationship is their home.
Natasha’s story cannot be separated from the stories of her clients who in Italy are mostly women, caretakers and cleaners. For them migration is a series of impossible emotional, financial and bureaucratic hurdles. Natasha often sings and laughs, but says it’s an impossible balancing act, it’s hard to emigrate, hard to work as a migrant, and dying as a migrant is just as hard.
The 2022 war in Ukraine disrupted this balance for all these women in thousands of different ways.
As the war breaks out Natasha is sick-worried and unable to reach her disabled father stranded in the occupied territory. They now spend their days collecting and sending donations, and helping others to move their families, arrive and settle in Italy. They also helped Sergei’s daughter (23) and ex wife flee from Kyiv, and now they all share their flat in Milan. The undertaking jobs are getting scarce and Natasha takes odd cleaning jobs to provide for the whole family.
The war also spills into every repatriation job they now take. Each case is more personal and more difficult, catalysing ever more questions about the final place of rest as the ultimate home in times when it is torn by war and changed forever.