July 21, 2022
I used to think they were absurd and I always asked myself, who watches something like that? These videos, filmed from the train or car window with a shaky camera. I no longer ask that question because I’ve become a viewer of such videos myself.
Again and again, but especially at night when I can’t sleep, I look at them. It’s easy to understand, I think now: Videos like this are made for people who would like to be in that train or car, but can’t.
That night I drove several times along Sumska, the main street in my hometown of Kharkiv. Sumska is for Kharkiv what Kurfürstendamm or Unter den Linden are for Berlin. Poems have been written about the Sumska, there is hardly a Kharkiv band that would not sing about the street.
My sumska begins at the Palace of the Young Pioneers (now called the Palace of Children and Youth). When I was ten, I attended the literature studio here on Sundays and first heard about the books that would later shape my life. It was here that I met other children who I was friends with for years.
Diagonally opposite is the huge administration building that was brutally bombed on March 1 of this year. If you keep walking, you will see on the right in a few minutes… stop, this sentence is no longer quite true! … You could have seen the famous Taras Shevchenko monument, now it’s correct. At the moment the statue of the national poet is protected with sandbags against Russian rocket attacks.
On the other side of the street was the legendary stand-up café Kharkivjanka (the Kharkiv woman), in the same house lived in the late 1960s Eduard Limonov, a young avant-garde poet who emigrated to the USA in the 1970s and wrote three novels about Kharkiv there. He later moved to Paris and then to Moscow in the 1990s, where he founded a right-wing party and became persona non grata in independent Ukraine. His book, published in 2015, was called Kyiv Broken.
In 1970, three years after Limonov’s move to Moscow, construction of the new opera theater began next to his house, which lasted 21 years. I never thought the result was particularly pretty, but it was impressively large – and there was even a record shop on the ground floor, where I bought my first records when I was 14.
Directly in front of the entrance there were also private sellers with their selection of vinyl and Polish bootleg cassettes. I remember one of them well – pale, long-haired, in blue jeans and a leather jacket, he looked like the bass player for a seventies British hard rock band. I bought Sex Pistols, The Clash and Nirvana from him back then.
When I was last in Kharkiv he was still there, the past 30 years have not left any traces on him. You can’t see him in the youtube videos you find. It’s not a good time for record collectors, and the Opera House isn’t a safe place either – two rockets landed on its roof but didn’t go off.
One block further towards Constitution Square is the State Theater founded 100 years ago by Les Kurbas. The director and actor Kurbas was one of the most important theater makers of his time. In 1937 he was killed in a mass shooting along with many other Ukrainian cultural figures. The Pushkin bust still stands across from the theater, but probably not for much longer.
Soft music is playing in the YouTube car that drives me through Kharkiv. I fall asleep and wake up a few hours later in my bed in Berlin. While I was sleeping, Kharkiv was bombed again. Three people were killed. Here in Germany, people are slowly getting tired and finally want to read about something else, enjoy the summer, go on vacation. My compatriots in Ukraine don’t have these options.
Read more parts of the diary here: