What Ukrainians and Russians from Bonn say How is the conflict affecting people here?

Bonn · The tense relationship between Ukraine and Russia also concerns about 4,900 people in Bonn whose roots lie in these countries. In everyday life, coexistence has so far been much more relaxed than statements from the highest levels in Moscow and Kiev would suggest.

 At home in Bonn: Ukrainian-born Vitaliy Krusch with his wife Jelena and their daughter.

At home in Bonn: Ukrainian-born Vitaliy Krusch with his wife Jelena and their daughter.

Foto: Benjamin Westhoff

The conflict, the crisis, the problem - the current situation with the more than tense relationship between Ukraine and Russia knows various names. In Bonn, too, several thousand people live under the sign of the general tension that prevails in the countries where they were born or where their roots lie. Away from the big political stage, the relationship has so far been much more relaxed than statements from the highest levels in Moscow and Kiev would suggest. This is also due to the common structures that have grown up and in which the people in Bonn share everyday life.

Vitaliy Krusch, for example, has so far not been able to detect any break in the relationship when it comes to Bonn. He does not know of any open rejection or even hatred, neither currently nor in the past. "2014 was definitely a turning point that I also felt here," says the 32-year-old native Ukrainian, referring to the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia and the armed conflict in the east of the country that has continued ever since. Krusch came to the federal city at the age of 16 through family reunification. He was born in 1989 in the vicinity of the large city of Lviv in the far west, which used to bear the German name Lemberg.

Numerous encounters in everyday life

In everyday life, there are numerous opportunities for Ukrainians and Russians to meet in Bonn, says the engineer, who works for a large energy supplier. "At language courses, in the sports club, while shopping or in the Orthodox church," he says. "You just meet somewhere all the time, and of course there are also friendly relations." Might the current dispute not be a reason for Ukrainians to stop going to Russian supermarkets? "Absolutely not," says Krusch. "The cultures are far too connected for that, not least when it comes to food.“

All in all, he says, the vast majority find their personal environment most important. "People are preoccupied with themselves and the first thing they are concerned about is the well-being of their family here. I think that applies to Ukrainians and Russians alike," says Krusch. The sabre-rattling is more of a preoccupation for the younger ones, he thinks. "By that I mean people of my generation or younger people who have grown up with the conflict and the fighting since 2014, at least from a distance." The 32-year-old has started his own family in Bonn, his wife Jelena is pregnant with their second baby.

Peculiarities are cultivated, otherwise many similarities

His father, grandmother and other relatives still live in Ukraine. "The closer the conflict is to you, the more the violence of the war since 2014 touches your personal environment, the more people are concerned with current events, even if you live in Germany," says Krusch. "Of course there are peculiarities of the ethnic groups and the relationship has been strained and tense not only since the end of the Soviet Union. But the commonalities are so strong that a situation like the current one doesn't drive a wedge between people."

Alexander Ivanov can be found in one of these everyday places. He runs a supermarket that sells mainly Russian goods - and which attracts "actually all Eastern Europeans in Bonn", says the 45-year-old. "I am Russian, just like a large part of the clientele. Ukrainians come here every day and we have no problem with each other. Not now and not before the current crisis." For sure, there are different opinions about right and wrong regarding Ukraine, "but that doesn't change the fact that Ukrainians are welcome here. Of course, everyone is looking at what is happening there. What counts for us is living here, we have our centre here.“

Students in Bonn are preoccupied with the conflict

Krusch and Ivanov report unbiasedly on their impressions; no statement could be obtained from official bodies in Bonn when asked by the GA. Both the Russian Consulate General and the Russian Orthodox parishes did not respond to a timely enquiry. Martin Aust looks at things with a professional eye. The professor of Eastern European history heads the department of the same name at the University of Bonn, and among his students are always native speakers of both ethnicities and nationalities of the conflicting parties, who, however, get along well with each other in everyday life. "They have grown up with the conflicts that have been going on since 2014, so of course they are concerned about it," is his impression.

Overall, Russians and Ukrainians in Bonn are a "barely visible community, but one that is easy to hear with open ears", says the 50-year-old. Aust knows the structures in Bonn, both on an official and interpersonal level. "Both ethnic groups live peacefully alongside each other in everyday life. Actually, there wouldn't be much of a problem if politics didn't create one up at the highest level.“

Peaceful solution, whatever that looks like

Vitaliy Krusch co-founded the German-Russian Youth Parliament Bonn-Kaliningrad in 2015, which promotes German-Russian rapprochement through personal exchanges on the ground in the cities. That's how he met Jelena, who now chairs the association. The 27-year-old studied Eastern European history, her family once came to Bonn from the former Yugoslavia. He still hopes for a peaceful solution, whatever it looks like in the end, says Krusch. "That it will be an easy thing could hardly be expected after the events since 2014," says his wife Jelena.

(Original text: Alexander Barth; Translation: Mareike Graepel)

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