KHARKIV, UKRAINE - JUNE 30, 2020 - A woman pushes a pram past a playground in Sarzhyn Yar, Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine. Summer in Kharkiv Region Copyright: xVyacheslavxMadiyevskyyx

August 31, 2022Our first Berlin apartment was on Dänenstraße in Prenzlauer Berg, just a few meters from the small pedestrian bridge to Sonnenburgerstraße – the bridge over the Ringbahn with the best view in the world and Instagrammable sunsets.

At the beginning of the two-thousanders, we moved 400 meters further to Paul-Robeson-Strasse, where our son Boris was born in 2003. Even before he could walk, this narrow bridge was an obligatory stop on our walks – waving at the passing trains from there was always a highlight that couldn’t be topped.

Albert, the son of Hanna, our friend who lives on the other side of the bridge, also had a buggy next to ours. Originally from Lviv, she has been in Berlin for many years, and her son, who is the same age as Boris, shared her fascination with trains from an early age.

Today we meet again, Hanna and I – on the same bridge. Although we live so close to each other, we haven’t seen each other for a long time. We get into conversation and block the way for cyclists from various delivery services because they ignore the bicycle ban. When we were standing here with our boys 15 years ago, all these Wolts and Lieferandos didn’t exist, I say, and I know that I probably come across as a frustrated old man with a statement like that. But some things remain the same – children are still waiting here for the next train.

“You know, the boys will soon be of age,” says Hanna, “and I just can’t stop thinking about the 18-year-olds in Ukraine who have to go into the army now, you know? They are as old as Albert and Boris. This is unbelievable, just unbelievable. Imagine if our sons had to go to the front, just imagine!”

I admit, I think about it a lot too… sometimes I see pictures on Facebook of fallen Ukrainian soldiers, who can’t be older than 18, 19, and it makes me sick. We say goodbye, I carry the bag with my purchases and the six-pack of mineral water towards Paul-Robeson-Strasse.

When Boris attended school in Kharkiv for a month in 2019 and lived with his grandparents, he had to accompany grandpa to the water well every week. As tap water is undrinkable in Ukraine, alternatives are needed, and Sarshin Yar is a perfect option – the water is clear, it’s free.

In addition, the water fountain is located in a beautiful park, which was recently extensively renovated. Boris always complained that he had to carry six liters of water home. But his grandfather said it was good for his muscles. Water and fitness for free, an unbeatable combination, he said.

When I visited my hometown in autumn 2021 and lived in the Slovo house, we went there with a schoolmate – not to get water, just to have a goal. I was impressed with the modernization. Sarshin Yar is now a pretty European park with stylish benches and a well-equipped sports field. It was pleasantly crowded – muscular men exercising, couples cuddling in the park’s darker corners, youngsters dancing and filming videos for TikTok. Sarshin Yar was shelled yesterday, four people were killed.

“The Russians are now using the 2S7, the ‘Peonies’, they’re really, really nasty rockets,” says Sergey Myasoedov when we call him. I’m visiting tonight Dmytro Kurovsky from Chernihiv and Evgen Hodosh from Kharkiv, who will be performing in Berlin on September 2nd with their band Foa Hoka.

Myasoedov was her mentor and manager in the late 80’s when we met. “These peonies can break through walls,” he reports from his Kharkiv apartment in the Saltivka district, which has been shelled every day since February 24. He seems calm and unexcited. Then he asks where the guys are playing in Berlin, wondering because he doesn’t know the place, the Panda Platforma, wishing them a large audience and a great concert.