August 3, 2022 “I never thought I would ever see the inside of a bomb shelter in my hometown. I mean, that’s crazy, we live in the 21st century!” Maria smiles. The others at our table are silent, because what can you say about that?
A Frenchman is sitting to my left, I’m not sure what he understood because we’re talking in Russian. And if I heard correctly, Alina, on my right, is from Moscow. Otherwise, Ukrainians spontaneously gather here who, like me, have lived in Germany for a long time or, like Maria, only came a few months ago.
On a not too hot summer afternoon we are all invited to a birthday party in a beautiful garden in East Berlin. Children are playing in the corner, adults are drinking prosecco, a very intelligent red dog is running between the tables and the sandbox.
“We waited until the beginning of March, we thought it just couldn’t be long, but then it was enough for me. We went to Lviv,” she continues.
“We took the evacuation train and it was super slow because it had to stop at every station – and it was also overcrowded, eight passengers in each compartment instead of four, people in the aisles, people in the anteroom. We stayed in Lviv for two weeks, but the war wasn’t over yet, we moved on to Poland and ended up in Berlin, only with a small backpack. Everyone here has been so nice to us, I can’t believe it, all the apartments we’ve had the privilege of living in so far – we’ve been lucky with the hosts! But I said to my daughter the other day, let’s buy cups! No matter where we are, we don’t own anything, at least the cups can be our own!”
Maria’s parents stayed. Why do we have to leave the country, they say, we are at home in Odessa! We’ve only known each other for half an hour, but I feel like I know more about Maria than I do about some of my friends. She studied in Moscow in the 1990s, she says. “I’ve never been there,” says Karina, sitting next to Maria. Born in Kyiv, she moved to Israel with her family when she was eleven. She has now been in Berlin for many years. “I’ll probably never go there either!” Her husband Konstantin doesn’t agree: “Yes, we’re going to Moscow soon,” he laughs, “on a tank!”
When I hear that, I think of “Moscow 2042” by Vladimir Voinovich. This 1986 satirical anti-utopia starred a Solzhenitsyn-like Russian author living in exile who dreamed of one day returning to Russia, but absolutely on a white horse. “Exactly, if we’re going to Moscow, then only in a tank – and a Himars missile in each hand!” adds Alik from Chernivtsi.
The only one who doesn’t laugh at our table is Alina. “I still have family and friends in Moscow,” she says more quietly. And then a little louder: “What are you doing? Could you please stop talking about the war?!” She doesn’t look at any of us, I don’t even know if everyone heard her. Can we do that? I think. Is that even possible?
I turn to Jean, the Frenchman. He talks about his trips to the Ukraine, he has been to Kyiv and Lviv. I mention that I grew up in Kharkiv and at the same time I wonder if Kharkiv is somehow pronounced differently in French, but Jean knows my hometown and loves it – he may not have made it to the east of the country to this day, but he does mine He heard a lot from the city. He is a fan of the Kharkiv school of photography.
I report on the large exhibition by Boris Mikhailov and his comrades-in-arms that I visited in Kyiv – and I remember the Ukrainian cities, Kyiv and also Kharkiv, which was shelled at night, just like actually every day since February 24, and then to the request of Alina.
We can stop talking about the war. But stop thinking about it – we can’t.