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Thoughts on the war

Since Russia's military attack, Ukraine has been under a state of emergency. Andrii Fert coordinates a cooperation project between DVV International and the Körber Foundation from Kiev. He shared his thoughts on the war via Facebook shortly after the war broke out. We publish them in solidarity with the people in Ukraine.

The Körber Foundation has longstanding ties with partners from Ukraine through EUSTORY. Since 1997, the Ukrainian NGO Nova Doba has organized a history competition for schoolchildren in the country as part of the EUSTORY network. Since 2017, Nova Doba is one of 11 local partners in a large cooperation project of DVV International and the Körber Foundation, which organizes history competitions in Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and most recently in Armenia with financial support from the German Foreign Office.

Historian Andrii Fert works as project coordinator of this alliance in the Eastern Partnership Regional Office of DVV International in Kiev. We publish his text in solidarity with all our partners and the people in Ukraine.

Thoughts on the war

I don't have the words to describe my feelings of the last days and also the current ones. A few weeks ago the only thing I could think about was my upcoming TOEFL test. Yesterday I saw a photo of the street near the test center - burned out Russian vehicles and bloodstains everywhere. I myself was walking down that street just eight days ago.

The district of Kiev where I grew up - Obolon, my beloved Obolon, pedestrian-unfriendly, so melancholic with its endless Soviet prefabricated buildings, and yet my beloved home - was under attacker fire. Not far from the archive where I read Soviet reports on religion just a month ago, a family was shot dead.

There are no words to describe this. A week before the war, I read an anthology, Mottled Dawn. Written by a man who had to flee Bombay after Partition, these stories he encountered or was told about are full of hair-raising horrors brought on by the war and the mutual slaughter. The stories are written in such emotionless and report-like language that I found reading them uncomfortable, even embarrassing. But now I realize that such language is the most appropriate way to talk about such horrors.

On that gray morning in Kiev, I heard no shell impact and no alarm, but only an explosion from a distance. Yet that was enough. I had neither cash nor a plan. My mother and sister got into their car and fled. Fear paralyzed me. Ivan, my partner, led me to the train station, bribed the conductor, and made sure that we escaped as well. My hands were shaking. My first thought was to leave the country as soon as possible. But while the train was taking us west, the borders were closed. And now, in the relative safety of a western Ukrainian village, should I be ashamed that the closed borders and not patriotism had made me stay in Ukraine? Should I hate myself for leaving my homeland? A friend of mine says everything has been devalued. It really has. My work is useless now, so is my knowledge. Who needs historians when bombs are raining on our cities? I have never held a gun in my life; I always ignored the courses on it in school. All that talk, their manly talk, disgusted me. But nowadays, what good could those skills be. I am afraid, so afraid, of death, of pain, of possible injury - of picking up a weapon. And at the same time - out of laziness and convenience - I stopped hiding after the eighth air raid alarm.

I already miss the little things that made me me: our little conversations, a coffee in a nice café near St. Michael's Cathedral, long lonely walks from Kostelna Street to Podil, my ever-growing pile of books, my wonderful office overlooking the Maidan, the smell of old and poorly preserved archive files. But most of all, I miss the world of yesterday. A world where I was responsible for my silly little life. A world where I could read, use electricity all day long, be content with self-deprecating thoughts or coffee, listen to music and go to bed whenever I wanted. Those days are gone. Now you have to overcome your fears and do something.

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