Photo: Ismahane Emma Karima Bessi

Ukraine reportage: The horrors of the war cannot be overlooked

War always means destruction. It leaves scars that remain for generations. I am sitting in the corner of a waiting hall of the border railway station at Przemyśl. It connects the transport route to Lviv. The station is full of Ukrainians who either want to return to their homeland and those who are fleeing their homeland.

I briefly get into a conversation with a 16-year-old girl who is on her way to Warsaw with her two little siblings. Her eight-year-old sister is helping her brother, who is barely two years old, to drink. Then I look at a little boy who is no more than six years old. He has been squatting on a travel bag for hours, looking petrified in one direction.

The terror in his eyes is impossible to miss. Behind me, children are playing tag, laughing loudly, while some other children are sipping their hot chocolate. The fine line between war and peace cannot be felt more clearly than here on the border with Ukraine.

The topic of “Germany and their reluctant military assistance regarding Ukraine” comes up again and again, especially when I talk to people here. “Militarily, Germany is not well positioned. Besides, heavy weapons should not be underestimated either,” I reply. In Kyiv, I meet a 56-year-old American, who doesn’t want to be called by name (R.), who is waiting to be allowed to stand and fight at the front in Mariupol.

“So slowly Germany is also getting its act together and helping Ukraine more.” No matter what, Germany’s warmongering image will probably always stick. There is no denying that Germany did bad things to the Soviet peoples, but can the current people and government therefore be held accountable? I have to think of the words of my professor: “Every person is born with an imaginary rucksack in which the history of the people is packed. Every event is a part of his national history. And everyone who belongs to it has to answer for the deeds of his people – even if it was generations ago.”

There’s something to that.

When I ask him why he wants to fight for Ukraine, R. answers: “We have to win the war and kick the Russians’ ar***.”

“You do realise that the chances of getting picked off at the front are not small?!” He shrugs. “What have I got to lose.” “Your life.”

He looks at me in silence for a few seconds. “You have your life to lose,” I repeat my words emphatically. “This isn’t Call of Duty or Battlefield.”

“We have to win the war.”

The presence of the Ukraine-Russia conflict is “felt” in almost every corner of the world. Americans who feel motivated to experience battlefield first-hand because of the images flickering across their screens.

A middle-aged Ukrainian woman with sunglasses on her nose sits next to him holding a graffitied sign that reads, her son is missing a leg and is waiting to die in Mariupol. Behind the two is an even larger cloth stretched out with “World help us!”

There is a night curfew in Kiev, which did not stop me from inspecting Kiev at night on my arrival day. On my exploration tour, I am stopped at almost every corner by the military and must identify myself. They point out the curfew to me. I pretend not to have known about it but get into conversation with some of them. The contrast between young and older soldiers becomes very clear here.

“Is the end-of-war solution guaranteed with the division of Ukraine?,” I ask a soldier with grey-melted hair sticking out from under his cap. He looks at me seriously. “That is a question that is not so easy to answer.”

A soldier I estimate to be between 18 and 23 answers the exact same question, “If I have to, I will die for it. Partition of Ukraine is out of the question. Blue-yellow to the death and beyond.”

What patriotism. How different perceptions of war mentality can be. In fact, I have noticed this behaviour in many countries. The very young soldiers possess the mentality of the military – but do not understand it, while the men who have served the military for decades understand the mentality of the military but do not want to possess it.

My journey continues to Butcha, a town barely 30 kilometres from the Ukrainian capital. It was not easy to find a taxi at Kiev’s main railway station that would take me there. A private taxi took me after all. When I asked where I was going, the older, bear-shaped man looked at me. His head turning red. “Do you know what happened there?”

“Not really, that’s why I want you to drive me there,” I reply.

“Didn’t you see the disaster on the news?”

“Yes, just that. I have to see it for myself.”

We negotiate the price and are now sitting in an ancient Ford station wagon on the way to a city that has been badly attacked at Putin’s behest.

“Take lots of pictures and show them to the others,” the taxi driver says.

“Have you been here before?”, I ask.

“No. I’ve only seen it on TV. I want to get out of here though. I’ll drop you off and drive. I’m not staying.”

I nod. “I understand.”

Destroyed, bombed buildings and petrol stations pile up in front of me. Residential buildings that in some cases present clear traces of the massacre in Butcha.

War has always been a means of politics. This is precisely why a well-positioned military is important. The better a country is militarily positioned, the more authentic the deterrence, which means that more lives are protected.

I am sitting in a café right next to Putin’s beastly work. I ask the owner of the café if I can get a coffee. “Maybe in ten minutes or in two hours. The electricity is gone again,” he replies with a smile on his face. “Then I’ll wait that long. If you have cake, I’ll have that too.”

In fact, it takes until I get my coffee, but it is wonderfully delicious.

During the hours in Butcha, I meet journalists who are just getting out of a press car, which can be hired. They take you to the places that show the greatest destruction. Three journalists get out of the car, take a few photos and are about to get back into the car when I call out to them. I want to know if they even know what is going on here in Butcha at the moment.

A British journalist answers: “War, it’s all over the media.”

“There is a café 300 metres from here that depends on everyone’s support. Have a coffee with him. He can tell you a lot.”

“No time,” replies the Polish journalist. And they are off again in the direction of Kyiv, where life is beginning to blossom again.

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