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    Yuriy Gurzhy’s War Diary (68): The Beer Tent and the Hero of Izyum

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    I found out that the Oktoberfest was going to take place again through a Ukrainian news portal of all places. At the moment there are almost only reports from the Ukraine – it seems all the more surreal when there is something in between that has nothing to do with the Russian-Ukrainian war.

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    “Kharkiv was shelled again in the night. Two women are said to have died” – “Isjum. Over 400 bodies found in mass grave” – “Munich. After a two-year break, the Oktoberfest again” – “Russia in despair on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe”.

    And suddenly I remember – not just the Oktoberfest, I’ll be in Munich soon too, with a new project: Pumpkin Machine. I spoke to the singer Andrea Pancur about the concept for this at the end of 2019 – according to our original plan, I should have come to an artist residency in Munich in November 2020, where we would have developed a colorful program with other musicians in which traditional Bavarian music was performed Klezmer, electronic beats, fun samples and rap.

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    Everyone except me actually met in the Bavarian capital – but I went to the Donbass in early November 2020 to make music with young people in Popasna and four other places.

    School number 1, where we produced our songs in the auditorium with my young writing partners, is almost completely destroyed by Russian rockets today, as is the whole town of Popasna, and school number 3 in the town of Mykolayivka, where we rehearsed together with our team in December 2021 before the first performance.

    While I was composing songs with the Ukrainian children in Donbass, Andrea and her fellow musicians were also working hard in Munich – and this year I got my second chance to be part of Pumpkin Machine. This week we’re playing our first concerts together, it starts on Monday – at the Oktoberfest. I’ve packed a yellow and blue flag in my DJ bag, and I’ll be wearing Ukrainian clothes on stage – a vyshyvanka with a Jewish embroidery pattern from Lviv and Kharkiv T-shirts.

    Over the past few months, I’ve repeatedly asked myself how people manage to celebrate right now? How does it work? How do you get in the right mood? Have I forgotten it? Have all Ukrainians lost this ability? When we arrive at the Oktoberfest site, I think about it too, while men in lederhosen and women in dirndl walk past me. Despite the traffic jam, we arrived on time at the Herzkasperl tent, where our performance is to take place. There’s a brass band playing on stage and I try to imagine the audience’s reaction when we start our set with odd rhythms and weird synth sounds.

    My phone vibrates – messages from Oleg Sosnov. He is currently accompanying a team of French journalists in the Kharkiv region, sometimes he tells me about what happened and sends photos. Next to me, older gentlemen in traditional hats are belching and laughing, each with a pint of beer in front of them. In Oleg’s photos I see a school building in Izyum, where the Russians have set up their torture chamber, the houses that have been destroyed, the mass graves that have been opened.

    In one of the pictures a grey-haired man can be seen under the sign “Ritual Goods and Monuments”. “This is Vitali, the unknown hero of Izyum,” writes Oleg. “We managed to find him! In the photo he is standing in front of his funeral home, he stayed in the city when it was occupied by the Russians and even under fire he buried people and wrote down every single name, thanks to him it will now be possible to identify 445 dead.”

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    Source: Tagesspiegel

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