February 24th: Russia starts military invasion in Ukraine, the Russo-Ukrainian conflict escalates. Most of us are shocked by the war events and especially the possibility of a nuclear attack is terribly frightening. Newspapers all over the world are bursting with horrifying headlines. Social media is swamped with guides on how to recognise propaganda and fake news, with tips for donating money, with explanatory videos and charts about politics and strategies, with info about demonstrations near your location and with so much more. And I think this war is difficult to grasp for us as especially younger generations have never experienced military conflicts, never really had to fight, or even think about fighting for their freedom, it’s just something taken for granted. War always happened somewhere but in order to really feel any of the effects, it was simply too far away. Now there is an ongoing war in close proximity. Think about it, from Berlin to Munich it’s approximately 600 kilometres as well as from Berlin to Warsaw. From Warsaw to the Ukrainian border it’s only a relatively small distance of 250 kilometres. Or putting it into yet another proportion, take Iraque, a relevant battle zone of the recent past: Almost 4000 kilometres lie between Berlin and the border of Iraque, nearly 6000 between Berlin and Afghanistan. That’s how close Ukraine, how close this war is.
On top, the economy is affected in such a way that everyone really notices that something’s afoot. How many German citizens thought about petrol for their cars, about their heating system, about the power supply, about what would happen if shortages of these things would arise at some point. Did you know, to name an important example, that about 55% of the German gas supply comes from Russia? Petrol prices are astronomically high and almost unaffordable and now I think three times about whether I really need the car for a trip. I also tried turning off the heating completely in my flat as an experiment, after all, I thought, winter’s kind of over now. And I tell you, it’s not impossible but it’s really nasty. You are cold, not too cold but unpleasantly cold, always and everywhere with the exception of the comfort of a bed at night. For me, the worst thing when working was getting stiff fingers and having difficulties getting them back to working temperature. I thought about what to do in my spare time without using any electricity, also not so easy (I ended up writing a letter which was very nice indeed).
Last here but certainly not least in general: how many Russian or Ukrainian friends, or acquaintances, or friends and family of friends do you have? I count four with whom I speak on a regular basis. One of them picked up a friend with her two twelve-year-old children from Ukraine a few days ago. They don’t speak English or German and couldn’t take much with them. And I try imagining how that must feel for a twelve-year-old.
Now, I know this post may be slightly dramatic and my point of view on this is not the one and only. However, I still wanted to share some experiences I collected over the last few weeks regarding this current and highly relevant topic.
Of course, a few literature suggestions should also not be missing here. In general, I recommend Cold War texts and media as it also deals with the fear of nuclear weapons and of war itself. It also concerns the same parties and is connected to the events of the current conflict.
- 1984: Orwell’s famous dystopian novel not only explores surveillance but also a totalitarian state severely punishing anyone opposing or criticising the system.
- You and the Atom Bomb: An Essay also written by Orwell and published in the Tribune in 1945 concerning the relatively new nuclear weapon. Very insightful and a quite accurate description of our present and the current situation.
- Everything Sad is Untrue: A coming of age novel by Daniel Nayerie focussing on a middle school refugee boy whom no one believes his stories. Maybe relevant for a peek beyond the black and white.
- When the Wind Blows: Another graphic novel by Raymond Briggs not to be given to younger audiences. It explores the effects of an atomic bomb explosion taking an elderly couple as an example.
- What if We Nuke a City? : ‘In a Nutshell’ is a German-English youtube channel that focusses on scientific explanations of a great variety of topics. This specific video looks at the direct aftermath of an atomic bomb explosion. Admittedly kind of devastating but still worth watching.
- The Arrival: This graphic novel does not need a single written word to tell its story about migrating from one country to another. It depicts the story of a man traveling to a strange country to find a new home for his family, encountering loneliness, strange food, and frightening creatures on the way. It might give people insight into just how lonely a new country can be.
Eventually, it’s important to talk about the current situation with its multiple aspects and also, maybe even especially, about one’s individual fears.