For Rodion Bakum, war is always there. Just like his red sofa, which is his trademark during the election campaign. Karl Lauterbach, Franz Müntefering, Kevin Kühnert and Hubertus Heil have already dropped in on him. “Your doctor for our NRW” is his slogan.

Bakum’s life is one of those SPD climber stories: “My curriculum vitae in Mülheim an der Ruhr began in 1993 in the accommodation for asylum seekers in the former Schätzlein building,” he says. The 31-year-old wants to succeed former SPD Prime Minister Hannelore Kraft in the state elections on Sunday in constituency 64 after 22 years and, after difficult years in the Mülheim SPD accompanied by conflicts, win the mandate in the North Rhine-Westphalian state parliament in Düsseldorf. Mülheim is traditionally considered an SPD stronghold, but the CDU could win the race nationwide.

The doctor was born in Kyiv in 1990. He and his parents came to Germany in 1993 as Jewish quota refugees. The parents did not see their future in Ukraine. “And one aspect that was important was Chernobyl in 1986,” says Bakum. “My aunt got thyroid cancer, thank god she survived, but the thyroid is out.”

It wasn’t easy coming to Germany as a Jew, Bakum recalls as he drives his car through Mülheim, the trunk full of posters and flyers. “My grandfather fought against the Nazis in the Caucasus as a member of the Soviet army.” To this day he is very grateful for being accepted into Germany.

“And today I can stand as a candidate for a German parliament.” Nevertheless, he is sometimes shocked by the social climate and the hatred of politicians. When Health Minister Lauterbach visited him during the election campaign, it just emerged that right-wing extremists had planned attacks or his kidnapping. “In the run-up I had a lot to do with the police and the BKA.” That makes you queasy.

At the villas with a view of the Ruhr, Bakum drives towards the center, which is characterized by a lot of vacancies. The domestic steel industry shows the complications that the war brings with it on a small scale: “It is sad to say that the industry has just received a few orders because of the war in Ukraine, because the Ukrainian steelworks are not producing anything.”

On the other hand, steel pipes for the German-Russian Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 2 were produced here in Mülheim – this was preceded by tough debates with the Greens in the city council. If the order had been rejected, 600 jobs would have been at risk here, reports Bakum. Finally the pipes were delivered.

How the industry remains competitive, also in terms of energy, these are questions that move people here. Siemens still has a large location here. In addition, there are the issues of hospital care and the major social issue of this time, affordable housing. Even for him and his wife, who could afford it, it was difficult to find a larger apartment. In fact, everyone should be able to afford to own property, “especially when we think about retirement,” says Bakum.

When he arrives at the SPD office near the train station, he sits down on the red sofa that is “parked” here. Isn’t he at odds with the SPD’s Russia policy? “But on the contrary. I’m at odds with politics in Ukraine,” was the somewhat surprising answer. He has a Russian grandmother, a Ukrainian grandfather. This cultural mixture often exists in the former Soviet states – and that is “to a certain extent also part of the conflict”.

The best example is the Orange Revolution of 2014, which was very much celebrated here in the West: “For the people who have a background like my family and I, ethnically mixed, it was a disaster.” Removing Russian from the state constitution, This meant that students in Ukrainian schools were suddenly no longer allowed to speak Russian – although almost everyone in eastern Ukraine spoke Russian. This has increased tensions in society.

Politics in Ukraine is incredibly complicated. Andriy Melnyk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, is very critical of Bakum: “When the ambassador was appointed to Germany, he visited Stepan Bandera’s grave in Munich.” and murdered Jews”.

Nothing justifies Russia’s war of aggression, he clarifies. “But you have to know that there is a history before that.” And because of the right-wing Azov regiment there, for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mariupol is unfortunately a key location with great symbolic power for his “construct of lies about neo-Nazi Ukraine”, which he wants to “denazify”. .

Even during the election campaign, Bakum is repeatedly asked about their fears by older citizens in particular – approval of German tank deliveries is not as great here as it might seem in Berlin. For the SPD politician, the key question is: “How will we manage to create a security architecture in Europe in the future, with which we can live in peaceful coexistence with the Russians?” He doesn’t know whether he’ll see that again .

The complexity of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s (SPD) foreign policy, including how he does not declare diplomacy to be dead and constantly weighs it up, is for Bakum “no hesitation, but a clear stance”.