Two women who fled Ukraine quarrel in Reutlingen – Friday

Finally, Misha’s voice is on the cell phone. Screams through the headset. Ira asks: “Misha, are you okay?” “You guys were just a fuss.” Ira could breathe again. She hangs up the phone and sips on her an alcohol-free Aperol Spritz. Laughs, poses for a selfie. In Reutlingen, the heat portends a summer on Saturday. As if Ira’s realm was still fine, as if Misha hadn’t been on the Eastern Front as a Ukrainian soldier for three weeks and was panicking every time she couldn’t reach him.

They last saw each other on March 12th. On that day, Ira crossed the border between her hometown of Uzhgorod in the southwestern tip of Ukraine and the city of Vyshnye Nemeki in Slovakia. With ten others, she and her two sons wait for a minibus with German plates that is supposed to take them to Reutlingen in Baden-Württemberg.

When he says goodbye, Misha kisses Ira and his sons. As he walks away, he watches Ira from behind as he wipes his face with his jacket sleeve. Alina stands next to Ira. She witnesses Misha’s tears. “Alina saw it,” Ira said to the other women in the van the next day.

Until the outbreak of the war, Alyona was in her home in the Donbass, in Schastia, which means “happiness” in English. From east to west, from Shchastya to Uschgorod, about 1,500 km. Since 2014, over the course of eight years, in Schastia, Alyona heard the sound of muffled sirens and the force of explosions when the two sides “exchanged caresses.” When the roar became unbearable, I rolled over the mats to practice yoga with a friend.

Ira, 40, and Alina, 47, both love their country. But each of them has a different meaning. War rages in Ukraine. A place where people sit in basements and die. But also a topic related to culture, the past and memory.

It’s bad mouth Ukraine

There are two months between the ride in the minibus and today in May when Ira fears for her Misha. What started on the border as a friendship between two runaway women has been nipped in the bud. For the first few weeks in Germany, Ira and Alyona became friends, and together they went to get SIM cards that Telekom gave for free and went shopping at Aldi. Today they no longer talk to each other. Alina says you no longer see each other, everyone has their daily life. They sometimes cross paths in Reutlingen. There was no open conflict. But Ira doesn’t want that anymore. “Alina gave me a lot of support at the border at the time, but now she says bad things about Ukraine. Our men are fighting at the front and women come here and curse our country.”

With the Russian attack, Ukraine became more Ukrainian overnight, uniting people like Ira and Alyona who grew up in different regions of the country with radically different ideas of history and the present. But in parts of the population there is still a struggle over what is Ukrainian identity. In the past few decades, two novels have shaped the culture of remembrance: a nostalgic Soviet one and a patriotic Ukrainian one. The latter gained wider support after 2014, with the war against pro-Russian separatists in the east and the annexation of Crimea.

Ira decided to flee when her six-year-old son continued to shiver for an hour after the first warning of the air strike. She had long harbored doubts, but when Russian missiles hit a residential area in Lviv in western Ukraine at the end of March, she felt her decision was certain. As much as Ira would have preferred to stay with Misha, she wanted to protect her children from the trauma of war. Now she proudly publishes photos of Misha in a soldier’s uniform on the Internet. In Uzhgorod, she loved her job as a TV presenter, her friends and her life. She is now settling in Reutlingen and is toying with the idea of ​​staying in Germany for a long time. Recently, Ira was working in a German school as a teacher for Ukrainian refugee children.

Ira does not like to speak Russian, she scolds her 15-year-old son when she hears him speaking Russian with friends. Ira’s native language is Ukrainian – and this was suppressed for centuries, even by Tsar Peter I, Catherine the Great, in the Soviet Union. “Enough,” her voice trembled softly, in pain and anger. Western Ukraine is considered the cradle of the Ukrainian independence movement. Views like Iras are popular there, and speaking Russian hasn’t been great since the 1990s – but Russian is also the mother tongue of millions of people in Ukraine. In German supermarkets, Ira depicts Russian pyrogis and Kalinka kefir, with the hashtag in Ukrainian # німечина (Germany) If that’s what the sanctions against Russia look like.

“Why?” asks Alyona. She thinks the supermarket crusades in Era are a waste of time. Alina drinks her aperol spritz with alcohol. Wandering through the Pomologie Fruit Cluster in Reutlingen, in glass hand, contemplating the deep pink of flowering cherry trees: “Чудестно,” she is wonderful, she says in her mother tongue, Russian. Her country of birth is Russia, and her passport and heart are Ukrainian.

Alina is a small-sized woman, a psychologist, who speaks very softly, as if the letters sigh before forming the words. She can’t tell anyone at home about Germany’s brave new world. She is ashamed of her good performance here. At the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart I saw paintings by Monet, listened to a tango party at the Philharmonie, learned about the melody, the music of the film women’s scent With Al Pacino.

Until the beginning of the war, only the Siwerskyi Donets River separated the house of Alyona from the Russian-controlled breakaway region of the Luhansk People’s Republic. Today, her hometown is also under Russian control. “The first thing I did was to ‘liberate’ Shchastya – from our freedom, from our being, from everything that was dear to us.” For Alyona, staying there and not being able to declare her Ukrainian identity would be an internal death. In the areas already occupied by the Russian army, politicians are severely prosecuted, and there is talk of interrogation and torture.

Alyona’s relatives live in Russia, her 23-year-old daughter with her husband and daughter live in the breakaway regions around Luhansk. They are afraid to enlist Alyona’s son-in-law in the army – on the Russian side. If she talks to her daughter over a video call, she says, “Mom, I love you. Let’s not talk about it, we’re fine.” Alina licks her lips, imitating the kissing sounds they send each other virtually. The daughter is afraid of being eavesdropped on by the Russians.

Ira and Alina when they were still friends

Monument to Stepan Bandera

When she used to go to Russia regularly, Alyona was called “Banderka” because she lived in Ukraine. I grew up in the Donbass with the Soviet narrative of Stepan Bandera as a traitor, mass murderer, and fascist. Even today, she still refers to World War II as the “Great Patriotic War” – a term long banned in Ukrainian textbooks in order to distance one as radically as possible from Russia. So: in the homeland of Ira in western Ukraine, monuments and museums of Bandera have been built over the past three decades. Until the 1950s he was the leading figure of Ukrainian nationalists and a questionable figure due to his collaboration with the Nazis (Friday 13/2022

Alina stayed in the bunker during the early days of the war, sleeping in her clothes. When the neighbors reported that tanks were marching into the neighboring village and that Russian flags were flying, she knew: she had only a few hours. She distributes dry cat food on the floor in the apartment and asks the neighbor to tell her mother and sister. Pack the essentials and hop in the neighbor’s car. You are going to a friend in central Ukraine.

She shows us the video, filmed while driving: the road is littered with shells, apartment buildings are on fire, the gray sky is blazing with red and corpses are on the side of the road. Alina tries not to look. Your home is still standing. But Shchastya, the way she liked it, her little shop where she sold sewing tools, no longer exists. So she tells the story in her first few weeks in Germany, she is mostly composed, and she can never cry.

stranger among your people

Only two months later she admitted that the “neighbor” with whom she ran away is her childhood sweetheart, Lyusha. After nearly 25 years, they found each other again about twelve months ago. But a few days after the escape, Leusha volunteered at the front. “I knew that if he didn’t go, he would destroy him inside,” Alina says. It has almost no cell phone reception, but sometimes a call is received. After Alina’s first month in Germany, tears did not suddenly stop flowing because of the fear for Leusha and the pain of being separated from her mother, sister, daughter and granddaughter indefinitely.

Alina says that today the whole world looks at Ukraine. In 2014, the people of western Ukraine blamed the Donbass for the war. “I felt as if they were thinking: We are pro-Russian and we should blame ourselves for the situation.” At that time, his compatriots were not interested in suffering in the East. Meanwhile she had fled south to Odessa with her daughter, but: “We felt strangers among our people.”

Ira believes that Alyona’s feelings are the result of pro-Russian propaganda. “In order for Alyona to sleep peacefully at night, my son’s godfather fought in the Donbass and was hit twice in the head.” A refugee from Mariupol said recently in Reutlingen that she did not know who had shot her relatives: the Ukrainian army or the Russians. When Ira narrates this episode, her tone of voice changes, and these statements are the last thing for her. Ira believes that the Ukrainians are one people, from Uzhgorod to the Donbass, all are equal.

Alina says that it is a fact that both Russians and Ukrainians shot in Shchastye. so what? The aggressor is still Russia. Otherwise, how are Ukrainians supposed to defend themselves? For Alyona, loyalty to her country does not depend on who shot the place, nor on what language she speaks – in the Donbass they both speak. “Ira has been warned of air raids in Uzhgorod, but she has never experienced a real war in her life. If you gather together in the basement and they shoot you, no one cares if you speak Russian or Ukrainian.”

Alina says loyalty to Ukraine means she can buy a room in western Ukraine. Instead, she had to go to Germany: life in any European city is currently cheaper than in Western Ukraine. Renting an apartment there can cost up to $2,000 a month. Many people also fled abroad from cities such as Ushgorod or Lviv. At home, they rented out their apartments for harrowing sums to refugees from the east who had fled the bombs. “Like Ira,” said Alina, raising her eyebrows.

Ira says she is also critical of the current price hike. In fact, she rented her house to refugees from the southeast, from Zaporizhia – a family that was not affected financially at all by her work in the IT sector. It’s also a whole house at a price that others charge for two rooms.

Marina Klimchuk, a freelance writer, currently teaches at the Reportage School in Reutlingen. She accompanied Ira and Alina for several weeks

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