Culture news from Ukraine, read in a minute: Death of a talented student of the Kharkiv School of Architecture Zakhari Yusupov. Death of a musician from Zhytomyr, Slava Chudovsky. Disappearance of artist Bohdan Sisa after dousing the administrative building in Crimea’s Evpatoria with blue and yellow paint.
After that, I have a phone call with my father: “Do you remember my co-worker’s son who was in Avdiivka a month ago?” he asks. “Yes.” – “The man is dead. His body is still there somewhere and will soon be transported to Poltava.”
Recently I had to organize two public discussions here in Berlin about the media and artistic communication of war experiences. At the same time, I noticed the restlessness that was implicitly expressed by the speakers invited from Ukraine. A woman works as a media editor from Kyiv. Before the performance, she asked me whether the presenter, a German Slavist, didn’t have too much sympathy for Russian concerns.
There was so much fragility in her cautious question, coupled with her tiredness. She was exhausted after the long drive from the Ukrainian capital and exhausted by the mercilessly piling up of tales of war. The last thing she wanted to deal with now was understanding Russian artists.
A few days later, another invitee asked me who else was taking part in the panel. It would be problematic if Russians also had a say on the panel. My God, I thought, why are these women so suspicious? Why do you think that I, as an organizer, would invite Russians? Then another kind of tiredness became clear to me – the kind that set in because of ignorance and the much-discussed understanding of Russia. When Ukrainians get a chance to speak, Russians have to have a say, according to the common notion. As if we were somehow misunderstood without a Russian translation for German ears.
It should now be clear that the Ukrainians are not automatically obliged to deal with the Russian perspective. For this, a brutal war had to break out. Our longing for a safe space is now recognized by our foreign colleagues. But the basic right to security, far outside of cultural discourse, remains somehow utopian. And that is a constructed utopia.
During her trip to Berlin, the Kiev editor thought a lot about what to report and with what focus, so that the people in the Mariupol steel mill could be saved. Later, reading the news about the transport of wounded people from the steel mill to the cities occupied by Russia, I asked myself: has everything possible really been done? Of course not.
Especially if you don’t think it’s natural to abandon a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Many pilots who flew to Mariupol to deliver aid have died. Why? I wonder. And know it: Ukrainian lives are less precious. This is not a matter of course, but an ethical choice.
Everywhere I hear about the price Ukrainians are paying for their heroism: for belonging to Europe, for Western security, for European values, for liberal democracy, for their own freedom and future. Enough suitable variants for tombstone sayings (if you’re lucky and don’t end up in a mass grave). Even Putin is securing his rule in the country with Ukrainian victims.
Our lives are cheap. In Europe we are still cheap labour, even during the war. We can beg for weapons for months, the necessary papers are in the offices for weeks. But no no-fly zone! The delivery of heavy weapons hurts the pacifist sentiments of German intellectuals – sanctions are simply cheaper.
Anyhow everything is more expensive than Ukrainian life. Somehow Ukraine must not win, even if it is not said out loud. This political-economic logic should be questioned immediately! But not by means of further victims, but by means of a critical position of humanity.