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Yuriy Gurzhy’s War Diary (85): gloves, hats and a long snake

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November 19, 2022
The likelihood of it being a mistake is slim – the thermometer on my window pane and the weather app on my phone say the temperature outside is minus three degrees.

I open the balcony door and then immediately close it again. That’s enough to state: Unfortunately, winter is actually here. I’m looking for the gloves, they must have been lying around somewhere for months. There they are – black-grey, made of artificial wool, you can probably find gloves like that in every cheap shop in the world for two euros.

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I bought mine in a shop around the corner from Krokus, the hostel on Perschotravneva street in Popasna, where I spent three weeks in November 2020 with the theater makers of the German-Ukrainian project Misto To Go. Even with temperatures similar to those in Berlin today, it was really cold – this cold was nasty, it went straight to the bone.

Every morning at 7:30 am we got on the school bus with the broken heater and drove an hour to Trojitske and then an hour back to Popasna in the afternoon. I left my gloves at home in Berlin and desperately needed new ones. I hoped they would last at all until the end of my trip, but even today, I find they are in amazing condition.

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Krokus, on the other hand, was completely destroyed by Russian missiles – like the shop around the corner, like the Semja supermarket across the street, where we always shopped, and the Café Cappuccino to the left of it, where I ordered the fitness salad every evening . Hardly anything is left of Popasna, the kids write to me, with whom we recorded our “New Donbass Symphony” in 2020 – in the meantime they are scattered, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Tscherkassy, ​​Bautzen, Oberseifersdorf…

Olena contacted me yesterday, one of the last people from Russia with whom I still have contact. She is in Berlin for two days, we arrange to meet in a café in Mitte. Like me, Olena is from Kharkiv, we were in the same school class and lived not far from each other. She is currently in an artist residency in Georgia for two months. She entered the country one day after mobilization was declared in Russia.

Demonstration against Russian immigrants in Georgia.
© IMAGO/Nicolo Vincenzo Malvestuto

Olena shows me pictures on her phone she took on the Russian-Georgian border, showing an endless line of men who refused to be drafted into the murderous army. Some here in Germany would like to see them as martyrs, as dissidents, but where have they been in recent years, have they protested against the war that started in their country in 2014, I would like to ask, but I don’t. I’m aware that Olena doesn’t have an answer to that.

The queue was 20 kilometers long, she says, and you had to queue for up to five days. In the photos I see exhausted men, and on the other side a spontaneous demonstration of young Georgians who are obviously not enthusiastic about the prospect of taking in thousands of Russian refugees. “Russian deserters, you are not welcome!” reads their posters.

I still remember how Olena claimed two or three years ago that the whole West suffers from latent Russophobia, she said she often felt it. Interesting, that’s not an issue today. “You can’t even imagine how many Russians are in Tbilisi right now,” she says, “almost everyone I know has left Moscow.”

I ask how her parents are, who are still in the same apartment in Kharkiv where Olena lived when we went to school. The two are over 80 and don’t want to leave under any circumstances, although she has often suggested it – and also assured that she would organize everything. They Skype daily and the father does his best to appear cheerful on the phone. Sometimes he forgets to take off his wool hat. It’s cold and the heating doesn’t always work. But he doesn’t want to talk about that.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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