Encounter of two parallel realities

Although we have spent just a week in Ukraine, it seems to everyone in our group that it has been quite a while since we first arrived in the country. Until now the journey has been rich in memorable experiences and encounters. Our brains are full of new information and I am struggling to order the various impressions that I have made so far.

I personally came to Ukraine with a lot of excitement and curiosity to find out more about the country, but with no particular ideas and expectations how it would be in reality. But what I have seen until now, which is of course only a fragment of this large, diverse and controversial country, has caught me by surprise. Kiev and Kharkiw are beautiful, lively cities that will forever be stamped in my memory with gorgeous churches, well-dressed people, busy restaurants, a great coffee culture and for some puzzling reason numerous notaries. Frankly, this is not what first comes to mind as an idea about a post-soviet country that has also been at war for three years.

We have had meetings with various people to discuss the ethnic and political conflict in Ukraine, the division between East and West, the Maidan, Russia and its role the conflict, and of course the war and its numerous victims. Indeed, meeting people and discussing these issues in an isolated safe space and seeing the physical manifestation of war with your own eyes, even from a safe distance, has a much greater emotional impact than from afar.

Our conversation with the Ukrainian author Serhij Schadan confirmed my own observations. He said himself that if a person hadn’t heard about the war in Ukraine, he wouldn’t know there is one. It’s like two parallel realities that don’t intersect very often – the normal life and the war. Sometimes people in Kharkiw hear a helicopter which reminds them that somewhere there is a distant armed conflict, but that’s all. But just as fragmented as Ukraine is in terms of ethnicity, politics or linguistics, so is the Ukrainians’ attitude and way of handling the war. For some people the war has become a part of reality. This, claims Schadan, has manifested even through the military lexis that has been integrated into the civil language. Other people distance themselves from it and ignore it. The ones who are most directly affected by it, for instance the big number of internal refugees in the country, can’t separate themselves from it even after they come back to “normal” society and “dissolve” in it. But one thing is undisputed, says Schadan: the war in Ukraine leaves its footprint on everyone’s emotions, whether it sets off fear, or produces apathy; it does something with people.


On the historical date of October 3; the Day of German Unity, we visited a very holy place for the Ukrainians, but also for the Russians: Sviatogorskaya Lavra. This is a major Orthodox Christian monastery, situated in the heart of a valley, surrounded by the Holy Mountains which gave the name of the monastery and on the riverbank of the Seversky Donets River. The breathtaking, picturesque view creates a feeling of eternal piece. Looking at all this beauty makes it somehow easier to believe in God. On the other hand, it seems almost unimaginable that some kilometres away from this wonderful reality of peace and harmony there is another quite different one; one of ongoing war.


On our journey back to Kharkiv I was comfortably sitting next to the window in our marshrutka, enjoying the marvellous sunset. (For those unfamiliar with the terminology of public transportation in post-Soviet countries, a marshrutka looks like a minibus or a van and is similar to a share taxi.) The blurred window of the marshrutka slightly distorted my view and changed the colours, so it seemed like there was a blood-red fire in the sky. Suddenly something happened. While I was admiring this view through the right window, something in the thickening darkness on the left side of our marshrutka rustled by and passed in the opposite direction. Then again and again. And again. It took me a moment to realise what was going on; these were military trucks heavily loaded with munitions. There were probably twenty of them, I couldn’t really count them. I was just watching them, speechless, as they passed by at a high speed while the overwhelming feeling of fear was growing inside me. In my entire life I have never seen something like that and have never been even close to a war zone. And now I have seen it – the physical presence of war. For the first time since I arrived in Ukraine I experienced the encounter of the two parallel realities.


2 Gedanken zu “Encounter of two parallel realities

  1. Pingback: Wenn Faschisten gegen Faschisten kämpfen – Betrachtungen zu Propaganda und Identität in einer gespaltenen Region | viadrina goes ukraine. Exkursion 2017

  2. Pingback: Visual recap – part 2: Charkiw/Charkov | viadrina goes ukraine. Exkursion 2017

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