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After spending 30 years of working with media outlets across Europe, the Ukrainian writer Yuri Andrukhovych is frustrated by the lack of understanding for his country and culture.
If you're Ukrainian, now is not the time to be getting COVID-19. Putin could attack while you're in bed with fever, preventing you from reaching for your rifle when the occupiers march past singing "Katyusha" and other wartime classics.
It would be particularly unpleasant for me because I keep getting requests from all over Europe. Every day, there are more: commissions for a Spanish magazine, an Italian newspaper, a Romanian agency, a French outfit, a Norwegian radio station ...
Yuri Andrukhovych is a Ukrainian writer, poet, essayist and translator whose works have been translated and published in many countries
Nobody showed any interest in Ukraine for eight years. It was if the country did not exist. And now, all of a sudden, everyone is getting in touch at the same time: "Answer this series of questions." "Contact us per telephone!" "Write an essay about the historical roots of the current conflict!" "Contradict Putin!" "Convince the Germans!" "Draw the attention of the Austrians!" "Remind the Croats!" "Explain to the Montenegrins!"
Whoa! What's the deadline? "Today, of course! Tomorrow at the latest!"
If I write in English, it will take longer. "No problem! Write in your mother tongue! We can also translate from Russian."
It is frustrating — just as it was eight years ago, when protesters were shot on Maidan square in Kyiv. People would phone me and say: "Write an opinion piece about the nationalists! Nationalist gangs have taken over Maidan. Tell us more about that!"
You could be shaking all over, and, at the same time, people wanted you to deliver a coolheaded analysis presenting "both sides" as accurately as possible, explaining what exactly is going on. So you'd compose something in English, which meant looking up words in dictionaries, figuring out expressions and formulating answers to almost everybody who had been in touch.
You would send it off and that was that: Everybody disappeared — nobody would responded, not even confirmation of receipt. There were no words of thanks, no words of support, neither for me personally, nor for my country. Till next time, then.
Everything is calmer eight years later. Nobody is being shot in the streets (yet). I know where my loved ones are. But, when a Spanish magazine asks me what Ukrainian writers are doing to work things out with the Russian people, it hits a nerve.
When I read that the vast majority of Germans oppose supplying Ukraine with arms, it's frustrating. According to a January 27 survey, most supporters of the Left party (71%), the nationalist Alternative for Germany (67%), the center-left Social Democrats (61%), the center-right Christian Democrats (56%), the Greens (55%) and the neoliberal Free Democrats (54%) share this view.
The Germans are finally unified — in their opinion that unarmed Ukrainians can be killed if they do not accept annexation by "Putin's nation." After all, ceasing to resist would be easier and more comfortable.
Allow me to quote from a letter by an editor of one of Germany's best newspapers. "I think that most Germans do not yet realize that Putin wants to build a new Russian empire," the editor wrote. "If you could hear what people are saying here, even in educated circles: 'He is just interested in his legitimate sphere of influence,' 'Ukraine has always belonged to Russia,' 'he just wants respect,' and so on. People have not learned from 2014 — they've gotten dumber."
For me, this is a very sad, even tragic, assessment of the past 30 years. I never turned down the German media and was glad to be in contact. At the request of editors, I would put my novels and poems on hold to write other texts or to give interviews to influential national newspapers, as well as local ones, simply to everybody. I also did live and recorded radio and TV, which had audiences of millions. I thought I was being understood. At least, I thought I was beginning to be understood.
But now? Three decades later, three decades of effort, of hundreds of what I thought were good conversations, it is as if I am back at the beginning: in Munich in 1992, when people would ask me whether Ukrainian was a language — and not just a dialect of Russian. I am certain that I will be asked this question more than once in 2022. Nothing has changed in the German consciousness when it comes to the Ukrainian language, Ukrainian culture and Ukraine itself.
How could it have? For Germans, the top priority is the respect of spheres of influence — particularly Putin's sphere of influence. It is sacred and should not be violated.
This article was translated from German.