"It was like a bad movie” War in Ukraine: reactions from Ukrainians and Russians living in Bonn

Bonn · Several thousand people from the two countries that are facing each other in conflict live in Bonn. The GA asked both native Ukrainians and Russians how they view the war in the Ukraine.

 Pablo Hrosul has family in the Ukraine. He would like to see more help from the West.

Pablo Hrosul has family in the Ukraine. He would like to see more help from the West.

Foto: Benjamin Westhoff

Alena Wasilyev is standing in front of the Russian supermarket in Tannenbusch and is talking about the war in Ukraine when a man stops, raises his fist in the air and says something in Russian. There is a brief exchange of words. Before the man continues, he says to Wasilyev in German, "You have no education." He said he was for Putin and Russia, translates Wasilyev, whose name is actually different, but who is afraid of being in the newspaper with her real name.

It is the day after Russian troops invaded Ukraine. "Putin is a criminal," Wasilyev says of the Russian president. She is half Russian and half Ukrainian, grew up in Moscow, studied in St. Petersburg and has lived in Germany for 28 years. "I have quite a few friends and relatives in Russia and Ukraine," she says. "I try to communicate with them somehow.”

Families face tests of endurance

She knows that many Russians are against the war. But speaking out against it is hardly possible. There were protests in many Russian cities on Thursday. The United Nations estimates that 1,800 demonstrators were arrested by police. Many families with roots in both countries, are being tested by the fighting, Wasilyev says.

She has always had a very strong bond with Russia, she says. "I have said about myself, I am Russian." She used to speak Russian on the street here, she says. "I won't do that anymore. I'm so ashamed," she says.

Inside the market, the man who just raised his fist in the air stands in front of one of the shelves. "She feels superior," he says of Wasilyev. "Comes from Russia and is against Russia." Putin, he says, is only protecting the people in Donbas - the region in southeastern Ukraine that borders Russia and where pro-Russian separatists, with Russia's help, seized the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in 2014.

The man also claims that soldiers of the Ukrainian army wear swastikas on their uniforms. He got that from Russian television. It is an image that Russian media have been conveying for years. Putin justified the attack on Ukraine with this falsehood and other claims that were dubious or false. Among other things, he said in a televised speech that Russia wanted to achieve "demilitarization" and "denazification" of Ukraine.

Thomas Klein overheard the conversation in the supermarket. Now he stands in front of it and says: "I had to restrain myself, otherwise there would have been trouble." The 57-year-old is married to a Ukrainian woman and is one of the few people here who want to talk to the newspaper. "In Russia, Ukrainians have long been vilified as Nazis - complete nonsense," he says. For him and his wife, he says, the situation is very stressful right now. He reports that his wife's brother fled with the family after rockets hit near their village.

Tetyana Dobrushina's family and friends, who live in Kyiv, experienced the attacks, the Bonn resident says on the phone. On Thursday, the 44-year-old woke up early in the morning and saw news of the Russian incursion on her cell phone. "I had the feeling: this can't happen. It was like a bad movie," says the educator and author.

Her father and mother had already retreated a few weeks ago to a country house 25 kilometers from Kyiv, she reports. When the attacks began, however, her mother was still in the hospital in Kyiv.  But Dobrushina said that her mother then discharged herself from the hospital.

There was panic on the streets. Together with other people, her mother first sought shelter in the Metro. After hours, she managed to reach the country house by bus. "There, my parents are safe for now. But we don't know what tomorrow will bring," Dobrushina says.

 On social media, she sees people in Ukraine share stories about where the bunkers are; and how they can mix Molotov cocktails. "My country is struggling," Dobrushina says. "But we feel like Europe is just waiting." She says there is a need for sanctions, but also for weapons so people can protect themselves. "We need modern missiles, not 5,000 helmets," she says, alluding to a pledge by Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD). She had announced at the end of January that Germany would supply protective helmets to Ukraine.

Many have no passport

Sanctions are unlikely to help much, Pavlo Hrosul believes - except perhaps to exclude Russian banks from the Swift payment system. The 27-year-old political scientist has lived in Bonn for seven years. He, too, would like to see Europe supply weapons to his home country. Hrosul has family in western Ukraine. "They have to pack their bags," he says. One problem, however, is that many of them don't have passports and therefore can't leave the country easily. "Ever since I've been alive, we've been getting ready for a Russian attack," Hrosul says. Now this nightmare has come true, Putin is a murderer. In Ukraine, too, there is a saying: hope springs eternal. Hrosul says, "I hope now that Putin will come to his senses in the next few days.”

More than 4,000 Ukrainians and Russians live in Bonn

Currently, 1,477 Russian and 837 Ukrainian citizens are registered in Bonn, as well as 2,205 people with German and Russian passports and 365 German-Ukrainian dual citizens, according to the city administration. Most of them have registered their main residence in Bonn, only some of them have registered their secondary residence in the city.

(Orig. text: Dennis Scherer; Translation: ck)
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