July 12, 2022

Lesik Omodada has been touring Europe with the band Love’n’Joy since the beginning of June to raise money for his Musicians Defend Ukraine foundation. The fees and donations that are raised are used to buy cars, drones and bulletproof vests for fellow musicians who are on the front lines.

At the moment the band is enjoying two days off in Berlin. Mulatu Astatke, the inventor of Ethiojazz, is playing today, the boys are going, I’m joining them.

In the U6 I read messages from my Kiev friend Oleg Sosnov. I’ve known him for years, he’s a curator, works for the Institut Français and speaks perfect French. Today he is going to Kharkiv with French journalists and promises to tell me about it.

It’s already packed in front of the courtyard where the concert is taking place. To see such crowds after two years of Corona is unusual. I greet some acquaintances, but Lesik is not to be seen. I watch the casserole again and can hardly imagine pushing my way to the stage.

Somehow I’m in the wrong mood – I turn around and go home, write to Oleg, ask how he’s doing. It’s 10 p.m. in Kharkiv, an hour earlier here. At Rosenthaler Platz I change to the M1 when Oleg calls.

He’s in his hotel room. “The atmosphere here is very different from that in Kyiv,” he says. “Grim. Very little activity on the streets, hardly any people there.” Oleg sends me a photo of the administration building, which was severely damaged by a missile attack in March, an open wound in the heart of my hometown.

I ask if I can help, what exactly do the French want to see, who would they like to meet? I’ll tell you about Maxim Rozenfeld, the legendary city guide, you shouldn’t miss an opportunity to get to know him!

Zionskirchplatz. Oleg says something slurred – I assume he’s talking to his colleagues, just continuing with my ode to Maxim, but he cuts me off. “Shit, it’s already the second! Sorry, it was just the second explosion, it feels pretty close, it’s damn loud,” his voice sounds strained. He talks faster.

The Weinbergspark can be seen from the tram window, Berlin Mitte is enjoying the mild summer evening, a group of young people are sitting on the lawn with a crate of beer. “Has there been the siren yet?” I ask, I’m confused.

What do you say to someone who’s counting the explosions? “I haven’t heard, I have no idea how the air raid alert works, I’ll check Telegram right away. ‘Fucking Kharkiv’, do you know the canal? Oh, not the second, it was even the fourth,” Oleg notes.

Schwedter Street. There is a small queue in front of the ice cream parlour. Two guys are sitting diagonally opposite with an oversized loudspeaker that is so loud that we can hear the music on the tram. “California knows how to party!” sing 2Pac and Dr. dr Yes, I’m also subscribed to the Shit Kharkiv channel, I reply to Oleg. Since it’s often about the same thing there, namely the shelling of the city, the admins try to change things up by using synonyms and metaphors. “21.05. The fucking Dostoyevsky flew to us. It’s Tolstoy’s turn. Thank you for that, Russian brother! Off to the basement, now!” Now Oleg hears the siren in his hotel room. He gets dressed and goes into the bunker.

U-Bahn station Eberswalder Strasse. Before the tram reaches the next stop, before the fifth explosion in Kharkiv, Oleg tells me about the people who live in the subway stations. Often they no longer have a home because their houses have been bombed. Some are afraid to get out, even if you arrange for them to stay in a dormitory.

Schönhauser Allee subway station. I get out, Oleg goes down to the bunker, the connection breaks off. A busker under the subway tracks sings John Lennon’s Imagine. I can’t hear the song anymore.

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