May 21, 2022When I was still drinking, my visits to Ukraine were particularly challenging because they were always relatively short compared to the list of friends I wanted to see. The night before the meetings I went to the supermarket and bought a bottle of liquor. Often it was cognac. And every time I took a bottle from the shelf, I had to think of Vlad, who taught me how to drink cognac properly.

It must have been 1993, I worked at X-Radio, one of the first independent stations in Kharkiv, and I was the same age as my son is today, 17. My absolute dream job, I felt very comfortable in the collective. We shared a tiny house, there were almost only musicians, music fans and other freaks. And every night we partied. Sometimes I spontaneously took friends with me.

Once on the way to work I met Vlad and immediately invited him over. We knew each other from school. He was a few years older and I found it amazing how he had changed over the last few years of school – from a model student to a hippie – complete with long hair, brightly colored clothes, holey jeans, earring and even a guitar that he dragged to school. The teachers were shocked. But I found Wlad super cool, he was a role model for me.

Vlad insisted on buying a bottle of Bulgarian cognac “The Sunny Coast”. Plus two lemons. It turned out that I had no idea how to drink cognac, the concept of enjoyment was still foreign to me at the time. “With small sips! Slow down, you idiot, that’s not vodka!” Vlad yelled at me and said you have to eat a slice of lemon right after.

We found each other on Facebook last year. He has been writing to me regularly since February 24th. He sends cellphone photos of Kharkiv that look like it’s been damaged by a strange virus – normal streets at first glance, but if you look closer you suddenly see: Here a house is missing, in another building all the windows are broken , in front of it is a completely burned out car…

Vlad lives in northern Saltivka, where Russian attacks are particularly brutal. Sometimes nothing can be seen on his photos except clouds of smoke. His message reached me today on the way to Erftstadt. I’m standing in the overcrowded Cologne main station, there’s a storm warning, almost all trains are late, some are cancelled.

It’s raining outside. Confused passengers are pacing back and forth. I try to find my train and answer Wlad. He writes that his new neighbor needs help. In the house where he lives there are several apartments in the basement, he has agreed with the house owners that people from the districts that were most heavily shelled can be accommodated there. Now the owners want the rent for the last three months plus an advance payment.

My train is finally here. I call Wlad but the connection is bad. It’s also raining in Erftstadt. I finally reach Wlad in my hotel room. He talks about his 20-year-old neighbor Vita, who fled from Severodonetsk to Kharkiv, her house there was bombed, she is unemployed and doesn’t know how to pay the rent and the advance payment. I ask if Vita, Wlad or anyone else from the neighbors has a Paypal account. Unfortunately not, he replies. I ask him to open one immediately.

When the technician at the theater where my reading is taking place and I fight with the beamer and screen, I get the message that the account has been set up. Shortly before the start, I transfer 50 euros and write an appeal for donations. It stops raining. The reading starts. When I’m done an hour and a half later, I realize that we have the amount together. Hooray! Vita can stay in the apartment and hopefully find a job soon. When life in Kharkiv returns to normal. If there is no more daily bombing.

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