DThree days in Kiev, before and after the outbreak of the great war. Evening number one: Three friends are sitting together. Roughly speaking, they are in their mid-fifties. Dmytro, the entrepreneur, Olexander, the publisher, and the writer Andrei Kurkov are sitting together in a kitchen. A kettle now stands where a samovar probably once stood. There is tea and pastries. The entrepreneur who produces packaging material cannot imagine that the Russian air force would bomb Kiev, Kiev, the “mother of Russian cities” in the Middle Ages.
At first he shakes his head. But then he pauses and says: “Although… When the Bolsheviks wanted to conquer Kiev in 1918, their general Mikhail Muravyov fired into the city from the west, and he also hit the Saint Sophia Church and the Cave Monastery.” Church and monastery from the Middle Ages are the most important sanctuaries of the three million city. Then Dmytro makes the connection to the present: “Anyone who served in the Soviet Army, like me, knows that accuracy was, let’s put it that way, not very important there.” Dmytro smiles bitterly.
Olexandr, head of the Folio publishing house, which publishes good literature, keeps checking his cell phone, checking the exchange rates and the stock market. He reports on the price losses that the large Russian banks have suffered. Ten percent! Twelve percent! “But the ruble has just gained three kopecks against the dollar,” he says confidently. “Today we have a rare reason to be happy about a strong ruble.” A more stable ruble could mean that investors consider the risk of war to be manageable.
Evening number two: Thirty-year-olds in a basement pub downtown. There is little activity; most Kievans have more important things to do than sit around in bars. One of them is Yevhen. His job: He maintains and repairs mobile phones. But now he’s expecting to be called up. His previous military “career” was short: in 2008 he did his military service. Ukraine has long been a country without armed conflicts, both internally and externally.
That changed abruptly in 2014 when Russia intervened militarily in the Donbass region. In 2015, Yevhen was drafted. He became a sniper. Ten months of trench warfare in eastern Ukraine. And now: the call to war. His comrades from back then have already received the order, he himself is waiting for it from hour to hour. What does he feel about it? “To be honest, nobody wants to lose a year of their life right now. Rushing through the fields for a year. Not being able to see the family I’ve started for a year.”
Then comes the big but: “If I’m called now and don’t go… I wouldn’t be able to live with that. Feeling like I didn’t go there to defend my state. It’s about the principles. Yes, for some that is patriotism and so on. There are such great patriots who only need their patriotism and nothing else in the world. But for normal men there is such a feeling: you have to. The duty. And you have to fulfill them. I’m probably one of them.” His wife supports him in this, he says.
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