Russia’s war against Ukraine is entering its third month and still dominates the headlines. However, at the same time, there was inevitably a fading effect for many. Naveed Kermani has a first-hand impression of what is happening. The Peace Prize-winning German-Iranian journalist of the German book trade extensively traveled to Ukraine in 2016 and more recently again on behalf of Zeit to get an updated picture.
Christoph Liedbold: I just got back from a week in Ukraine. Where exactly have you been and what images probably don’t get out of your head so quickly?
Naveed Kermani: I traveled to Lviv and took the night train to Kyiv, and from Kyiv by car to Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, a rather ruined city from which the Russians withdrew. She has also traveled to these famous sites, such as Bucha and Irpin.
More than two months into the war. Putin’s illusions about blitzkrieg failed, and Ukraine proved to be very resilient. How is the “morale” of the population, as it was called in wartime? Do people get tired slowly?
No, this is the main difference between Russia and Ukraine. When I was there in 2016, this war was very far away in Ukraine itself. The Ukrainian fighters in the Donbass I spoke to also felt abandoned by their country. There was a lot of criticism of the Ukrainian state and society. It’s completely different now. Now, in distant Lviv, as elsewhere, there is a group, activists gather together, young people and schoolchildren aged 14-15 are active.
I spoke of shame because six years ago, when I was there, everyone was warning about war – only in the West it was not taken seriously. Did this shame grow back when you were there?
You meet again with people who in 2016 predicted what would happen now. At the same time, even these people are surprised that things turned out this way in the end and that they hit Kyiv so quickly. Apparently no one expected that. And it’s not about whether I’m ashamed now or whether we’re ashamed, but about: What is now, what’s wrong? What do you see with your own eyes? What are you watching? And these are the defining moments, not your state of mind.
Here it is discussed: handing over weapons – yes or no? And above all, Energy Ban: Yes or No? Germany is very hesitant in many respects. Is this against you by the Ukrainian side?
Yes, very powerful, you could tell. And this is sometimes not entirely fair, because Germany is already doing a lot, financing a lot, and taking in refugees. But the perception is different at the same time. Germany is seen as hesitant, as slowing. This applies not only to arms shipments, but also, above all, to the gas and oil embargo. We have to realize that no matter what the chancellor says, we continue to help finance the war every day with oil and gas supplies. And if you then see that the price of oil has gone up in the last few weeks, the war almost seems to be refinancing itself.
Despite the criticism of Germany and the West, did you have a feeling that people are happy to have someone interested? Or do they say we actually have completely different things to do than explain our situation to you?
No, they are really happy. They are happy when people come and can report. There are also people in villages who are still alone and are happy when someone comes. You are most welcome and very happy.
Many voices in Ukraine support a boycott not only of the Russian economy, but also of Russian culture. They see this as the wrong way, so they are against boycotting Russian civil society. Can you say something like that out loud in Ukraine?
Yes, you can say that, as it is discussed in Ukraine. That’s what I was there for: even something like this could be discussed! You also understand why clever and sensitive artists and writers believe that you should have nothing to do with Russian culture right now. This is not a general cultural boycott, but calls for a severance of the relationship for the time being. And you can face that and not just have to accept everything without criticism.
There is no doubt on which side Germany should stand in this war. However, all sides in the war are engaged in propaganda. With all the sympathy for the people of Ukraine, should you be careful not to be exposed to Ukrainian propaganda when you travel there?
Yes sure. This is what the Ukrainians themselves say, for example, I spoke to the head of the Ukrainian Institute of Remembrance, a representative of state institutions, who said very clearly: we must not exaggerate. For example the concept of genocide. This is an obvious legal term. We can’t just throw it in there like that. There are enough proven crimes, but we must stick to the facts. Of course there is a tendency to increase everything to immeasurable dimensions, but this does no good to anyone. The crimes that happen, and what can be observed, is bad enough. Genocide must first be proven before the term can be used.
The conversation took place on April 26, 2022 at kulturWelt on Bayern 2. You can watch the podcast of the show. here participation in.