Poltava is a city in eastern Ukraine, about 350 kilometers (217 miles) from Kyiv. It is a region with a history dating back to the Neolithic Trypillia culture (6,000 to 1,000 BC). It is also the home of Christoph Brumme.
The East German-born writer is familiar with Eastern Europe: when he was younger, he made several cycling trips from Berlin through Poland and Ukraine to the Volga, covering a total of 30,000 kilometres. He described his adventures in articles and books, including the 2009 “On a Blue Elephant: 8,353 km by bike from Berlin to the Volga and back.”
He has since settled in Poltava, from where the 59-year-old author reports for various articles, including Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
In his current book, “Im Schatten der Krieges — Tagebuchaufzeichnungen aus der Ukraine” (In the Shadow of War: Diary Entries from Ukraine), he offers a very personal, honest and unequivocal description of life in times of war.
New jokes circulate
Fear is a constant companion in times of war. But Brumme also shows the other side of the coin: the desire for freedom, which is stronger than the slightest hint of fear, the enormous will to help and the solidarity of the people, the hopes and, above all, the common sense of the Ukrainians. in the mood.
“On the street with Oskar the sun shines. He sang the chorus of a scout song: ‘Long live the sun / Long live the sky / Long live mommy / And me too’. Oskar sings in Russian. But instead of ‘sun’, he sings ‘vodka,'” Brumme writes, citing new jokes that emerged after the outbreak of the war.
For example: Leo Tolstoy’s famous novel “War and Peace” is now titled “Special Military Operation and Peace” as Russia has banned the word “war” in reference to Ukraine and its use can land Russians in jail .
“Humour is part of the survival strategy, that’s one of the most important national characteristics of Ukrainians, laughing at themselves, making jokes about their government or the EU,” Brumme tells DW. It is, she argues, an expression of sovereignty. In Ukraine, people are free to criticize the authorities, unlike in Russia, where a “completely humorless culture” prevails, she said, quoting another new Ukrainian joke:
“You know what? I’m actually scared to speak Russian on the street now!
– Because? Are you afraid that the nationalists will come and beat you up?
— No, I am afraid that Putin will come to protect me.”
Humor is a Ukrainian survival strategy, says Christoph Brumme
Ukrainians feel betrayed
However, there are moments that Ukrainians do not find amusing, for example when the debates in Germany continue: “Germany’s image has deteriorated a lot in the last months of the war,” said Brumme, adding that Ukrainians feel betrayed. “They are waiting to see if words will finally be followed now by deeds.”
But in general, people are skeptical of Germany, he said. “In times of need, you can see who is providing help and who is still waiting, secretly or openly, to do business with Russia and sacrifice Ukrainians if necessary.”
When war broke out, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for “change” in the Bundestag, but determination was scant and Germany’s credibility suffered. The foreign minister was hesitant about arms deliveries and did not advocate a comprehensive energy boycott of Russia.
According to an Infratest dimap opinion poll conducted in April, only a small majority of the German population was in favor of deliveries of heavy weapons to Ukraine.
“German society is kidding itself,” Brumme said. Believing that conflicts with Putin can be resolved and agreements reached that he will adhere to “has a delusional quality,” she added.
The media is also to blame for how Germany is perceived, he said. Distrusts German reports on Ukraine: “In general, the coverage of Ukraine has been poor for years. Public broadcasters have an obligation to the general public, but in my opinion they do not fulfill this obligation at all with regard to Ukraine”, He says. he said she.
He cites as an example the oft-repeated claim that pro-Russian separatists have been fighting in Donbas for the past eight years. “Anyone who knows a little bit about the situation is aware of the fact that it is clearly a Russian project with Russian leadership and Russian finance, Russian know-how and Russian technology,” he said. “This is how public pressure and public opinion have been generated over the years, which in turn leads to political decisions that are incredibly bloody for Ukrainians and cost an incredible number of victims,” Brumme said.
Cover of Brumme’s new book giving an insight into daily life in the war-torn country.
“People just don’t know anything about it”
In his book, Brumme said that the Russian soul is made up of “delusions of grandeur, self-hatred, and feelings of inferiority towards the West.”
Speaking to DW about propaganda broadcasts on Russian television, Brumme wondered how many Germans watch Russian television regularly and who understands what Russian politicians are saying. “A survey of 1,000 people might find two that show some competition. In Germany, it’s common to talk about things you know nothing about, and it’s all free speech.”
Russia’s brutal warmongering did not register in the West, he said. “In Germany, the historical dimension of this war and the Ukrainian-Russian relationship is not perceived at all, because people don’t know anything about it.”
Christoph Brumme does not see the war ending soon. Russia has not taken legal or moral responsibility for the mass murder of Ukrainians in the 20th century, he said, adding that eight years of propaganda appear to have worked. “Most Russians want this war, and the longer it lasts, the more fanatical they are,” he said. “A (temporary) Russian defeat would only make the desire for revenge there grow to infinity.”
The war will end when the Russian state no longer exists in its current form, the writer concluded. “Russia is also fighting for its very existence.”
This article was originally written in German.