7th and 8th of June
Boris, my son, has been working on a lecture on Soviet propaganda during the Stalin era for weeks. I was given permission to hear the current version yesterday. He goes on and on about a time that he hasn’t lived through. Of course, I was born much later; my grandparents and their friends used to live for it.
My grandmother and I discussed it on occasion. In the 1980s, relics of this propaganda could still be seen in the (now-defunct) Soviet republics – monuments, old TV programmes, and many Soviet writers’ books.
Dima’s parents write that everything is OK with them.
I have a meeting with Dima later. We gather in front of the Schönhauser Arcaden, buy lemonade, and take a stroll. We get caught up in a rally in front of the Gethsemane Church. On the fence is a Soviet flag. What exactly is going on here? What are your thoughts on Ukraine? What’s the deal with Corona? Or perhaps both?
We take a seat on one of the few available benches at Helmholtzplatz. Young people are smoking drugs and laughing loudly a few meters away, as pop music from the 1990s plays from their Bluetooth speakers. Dima tells about his parents, who stayed in Izyum with his grandma, who is 90 years old. The Russians are currently occupying Isjum.
“They don’t want us to be concerned about them while they’re here. ‘Everything’s OK, we’re doing terrific!’ they write if they have reception. Dima says this, and it reminds me of my father, who was the same way: Only report on positive events, even if – and especially if – the situation is dire.
He claims that the parents do not appear to be happy in the few images they send. He joins the Telegram groups that deal with the present situation in Izyum in order to learn more. There is also a publication that publishes information in Russian about the city’s rapid return to normalcy. Dima writes, “A music school has reopened, and everyone is delighted.” The delighted parents of the newborns have gotten Russian birth certificates, and they are overjoyed.
Boris mentioned a writing style, and it reminds me of it. It reads like a 1951 issue of Pravda, and in the same group, people of Izyum who have escaped upload images of their wrecked homes. There appear to be two parallel Isjums.
I’m on the train to Prague ten hours later. At the inauguration of a literary festival, I will propose our initiative “Fokstroty.” Serhiy Zhadan and I began working on it in Kharkiv exactly a year ago. He can’t be there today because he’s in Kharkiv, where bombings occur on a daily basis.
It’s strange for me to be forced to perform these songs without him. On the train, I listen to our recordings again and consider how we could divide the lyrics. Today, poet Lyuba Yakimchuk will join me on stage, just as she did in November 2021 when we debuted the record in Kyiv. Lyuba used to just perform one song, but now she performs several.
I can only walk slowly towards the hotel with the guitar and a large backpack, so I stop to look at all the tour posters along the road. Surprisingly, when compared to the posters of other worldwide artists, the posters of Ukrainian bands appear to be quite natural.
“Welcome to Paradise City!” exclaims the narrator. Sasha screamed.
Slipknot will perform in Prague in July. “If Sasha had been here, she would have been overjoyed,” I believe. But I’m not sure where Slipknot fan Sasha is at the moment. Hopefully not in Rajhorodok, a Donetsk Oblast settlement where we met and recorded a song a year and a half ago.
Sasha only yelled “Welcome to Paradise City!” but it sounded wonderful, and it was a cool joke because Rajhorodok translates to Paradise City. Heavy Russian artillery has been shelling the small idyllic town for several weeks.
I go over all of the pieces with Lyuba during a long rehearsal. Many Ukrainians attend our performance at the Center for Modern Art. When I had to walk through the audience to get to the stage, I run into a woman who was at our first performance in Kyiv. She lets out a howl. We exchange hugs.
It took a maximum of ten minutes for everyone to dance during the Ukrainian debut. It takes longer nowadays. Many people came up to thank you after the performance. Also, Roman, a twelve-year-old who approaches me while his mother converses with Lyuba.
He is a shy person. I inquire as to his origins. “Chernihiv is a city in Ukraine. For a month, I was confined to the basement. The school was bombed. Here!” On his phone, he shows me photographs. I note that the school is almost completely demolished. I want to hug him, but I’m not sure what I should say to him.
His mother arrives. “Oh, those pictures again, Roma!” she exclaims, smiling and thanking him for a wonderful show. Roman puts his phone on the table and turns away. Then the two of them leave.