Berlin. When Danylo Poliluev-Schmidt entered the café on Friedrichstrasse, he took a very close look around the room. Little Ukraine flags hang from his bag and jacket and up to his chest. The 26-year-old biochemistry student at the University of Potsdam assures him that he is not afraid, but that he has already done his own experiment. “Recently I was attacked by a woman around the corner in broad daylight and he insulted me in Russian,” he says in accent-free German. The woman had ripped the Ukrainian flag from his neck and said he should return to Kyiv. “I don’t know where this hatred comes from from us,” said Polelov-Schmidt, shaking his head sadly, “whether at home in Ukraine or here.”
25-year-old Elizaveta Pletkova, who is currently completing a master’s degree in political science at Freie Universität, has similar experiences. “We always talk about Berlin as a safe haven, but for many refugees, it’s not even after they arrive from the war zone,” she says with a stern and resolute look. The numerous pro-Russian processions are an example of this, and Pletkova contemptuously calls them “Putin’s safari.” The Russian president has many fans in Berlin, and not only among his compatriots, according to the student: “Recently, my friends and I were attacked by young people calling for Putin – at least they weren’t Russian.” Pletkova’s mission believes that it is better to protect people who have fled war and death from such humiliating attacks.
Ukrainian students are committed to fighting vulnerability
Having to fight battles indoors, abroad and away from the war front – for many Ukrainian students in the metropolitan area, this has been the grim reality of everyday life for two months now. When Russia invaded Ukraine, they were several kilometers away, frightened for their family and friends, but then, despite the foreboding, they were startled and helpless. But this is only for the moment, because many of them are now volunteering, for example in the Alliance of Ukrainian Organizations on Parisier Square, to deal with pressure, fear and their initial helplessness. And to serve their occupied country, each in his own way.
Poliluev-Schmidt, for example, as an interpreter at Berlin Central Station and at the IWEK Initiative, which primarily designs cultural, educational and scientific projects and advocates the creation of the well-connected academic center of Ukraine in Berlin. “Dussmann’s department store has helped us to have a large stock of literature written in Ukrainian, including children’s literature,” says Poliluev-Schmidt proudly, naming one of his successes. For younger refugees in particular, it is extremely important that they do not lose touch with their language and culture. On the other hand, Pletkova is active in the field of political communication in the Vichy organization, conducts talks with important national and international actors and explains Russian propaganda. She says: “Personally, I speak Russian and from Odessa and studied in Kharkiv, my mother comes from Siberia, and there is no discrimination against Russian-speaking Ukrainians.” This is a lie, just like the Russian story about a “sister nation”, which the West unfortunately still often believes.
War in Ukraine: Studies should be postponed for now
Boliv-Schmidt and Plitkova work long hours every day with dynamism and dedication to help their fellow citizens, to support the integration of refugees, to point out the situation, circumstances, history and reasons for the escalation of the Ukraine war – and this is all suddenly, unplanned and out of necessity, along with her job and study. Pletkova admits: “My master’s thesis is currently on hold, and I very much hope that the university will show understanding in light of the situation and somehow allow my current political commitment to flow into my thesis.”
Understanding is something that both Boliv Schmidt and Plitkova long ago missed in Germany. He’s been living in Berlin for three years, five years ago. “The Ukraine war has been raging as a frozen conflict since 2012, but none of my fellow German students wanted to talk about it,” Pletkova says bitterly. Instead, she was repeatedly told that it would not be a “real war”. Even after the Russian invasion in February, many people continued to talk about the fighting in their presence without bringing their point of view into the discussions. “They talked about armistice or territorial separation, about the Russian East and language conflicts, without knowing the reality of the situation on the ground and where they were completely captured by Russian propaganda,” Pletkova says.
In Germany, the necessary “tact” is often missing
Poliluev-Schmidt also asserts that there is a great deal of ignorance among the German population when it comes to the subject. There is a lack of “tact” from statements that all Ukrainians understand in the Russian language to the habit of putting Ukrainians, Russians, and Belarusians in the same dormitories for precisely this reason. “That’s why Ukrainian experts like us are so important right now,” says the student, who wants to do his Ph.D. in Germany and is currently at the Max Delbrück Center. He lived like Pletkova in the Donbass in Donetsk. However, his family hails from Western Ukraine, and he does not speak Russian. “In Donetsk, my Russian-speaking colleagues often called me and asked if I was a nationalist,” he recalls.
Unlike Pletkova, he showed little understanding of the situation of the Russians in Germany. “I can understand that it is difficult for them, too, to suddenly have to defend themselves everywhere as aggressors, because they usually only watch Russian TV,” says Polelev-Schmidt. However, this cannot be an excuse to attack others because of their beliefs, they can at least freely inform themselves. Pletkova made it even more difficult. “Most of them make it too easy for themselves when they talk about Putin’s war,” she says. “The fact is that Putin’s popularity has increased in Russia since the beginning of the war, and the denial of Ukrainian identity is having an effect.”
Ukraine War: Reconciliations Only If Russia Admits Guilt
Although the analyzes and approaches of Poliluev-Schmidt and Plitkova differ, they agree on their opinion in Germany: while the people are incredibly helping Ukrainian refugees, the politicians are doing little to stop Russia’s aggressive war. Boliv Schmidt is also disappointed with the seemingly apolitical university system. “There is little real solidarity from universities, only word of mouth,” he says, “there is no end to scientific cooperation with Russia and no punishment for students who openly support the Russian war of aggression.” Pletkova also demands the delivery of heavy weapons from Germany: “This is the only way for Ukraine to win this terrible war.”
Will there still be reconciliation between the Russians and the Ukrainians after that? Pletkova takes a deep breath. She knows she’ll take a storm because of it, she said, but in light of the war crimes and torture, rape And atrocities don’t really matter. “How can we Ukrainians forgive all this?” she asks. She does not expect a response.
Boliv Schmidt thought for a long time before answering the question. He understands that many in Germany reject this comparison on historical grounds, but he still thinks it is appropriate. “Only if Russia, like Germany after World War II, is willing to formally and unconditionally admit its guilt and apologize to Ukraine for its crimes,” he says slowly, “only then can there be such a thing as true reconciliation.” ”