#FundReise Day 23 – Kharkiv

28.12.2022 | cb — No comments

She did not mention too much about her travel plans at home. Now that she is safe again, Sibylle can tell the truth: She spent the Christmas holidays with friends in Kharkiv. A regular rocket from Russia takes just 40 seconds to get there. The days in the destroyed city have left their mark on Sibylle.

This is the blog of Sibylle von Tiedemann, co-founder of Munich Kyiv Queer. She no longer wanted to just watch what’s happening in Ukraine and travelled there. She visits our friends and partners, writes this blog and collects donations.

Power: It’s too dark
Temperature: Fine
Donations: 12.911,78 out of 18.000 Euros
Special occurrences: Brutality!
Alle blog posts: Sibylle’s Charity Trip to Ukraine

“Good luck”, writes Sergey Sumlenny. It makes me feel a bit uneasy. I extended my stay to see more of Ukraine. But now straight to Kharkiv? The city is situated just 20 to 30 kilometres away from Russia. Am I losing it?

Of course, I consulted experts, Sergey for example who headed the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Kyiv from 2015 to 2021. He knows everything about Ukraine and Eastern Europe. In principle, he says, you can travel to Kharkiv. But the situation is dynamic and you never know for sure. “Good luck” it is. Well.

The beautiful train station in Kharkiv. Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

I have never been to Kharkiv. Now that the Russian army is turning Ukraine into a battlefield, dragging unknown places into horror, I feel I have missed too much. Kharkiv, among others.

Family Holidays

In Kharkiv, I know Anna Sharyhina. She has been to Munich before, attended Munich Kyiv Queer’s workshops, but also MunichPride. Anna is vice-president of the NGO “Women Association Sphere”, which is dedicated to lesbians and bisexual women. She is a leader of KharkivPride, too.

I take precautions to not worry anyone. Chat history with Sergey Sumlenny. Screenshot: Sibylle von Tiedemann

Since February 24, Anna has been in Kharkiv for the whole time. She invites me to stay with her family. The fact that I will be among Ukrainians makes me feel safe. The locals have ten months of war experience ahead of me.

“40 seconds! It takes 40 seconds for a rocket to get from Russia to Kharkiv,” Anna’s girlfriend Anna explains to me. “No one can make it to a bunker in 40 seconds”. “But not in two and a half, three minutes either,” I think to myself estimating how long the rockets may take to Kyiv. “No, not to the bunker. But in that time the air defence can react.”

Anna Sharyhina and her partner Anna invited me to Kharkiv. Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

“There are earth-to-earth rockets,” Anna Sharyhina continues. She describes a parabola with her hands. “And there are air-to-earth rockets.” Anna draws a horizontal line in the air. “Then…. whammmm.”

Earth to earth, air to earth… Am I really sitting here right now with such a smart activist like Anna, a feminist, talking about rockets? Why not about Judith Butler? Simone de Beauvoir? Why don’t we gossip about the city’s lesbian community?

Air-to-earth missiles are more dangerous, by the way. But you probably have figured that out already.

This war is happening now!

Anna and Anna tell me a lot about the first hours, days and weeks of the war. And me? It’s hard for me to write about it. This is real, this is happening now, it is happening to people I know and like.

I am a historian, I work on things in the past. But now, the threat is real. It can hit us. In 40 seconds, for example.

Layers of self-defence in Anna’s flat. Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

The green tape was the first layer, a first attempt to protect the glass from being shattered. Later, they learned that the whole window had to be taped. The wooden board is an additional protection. The flags both serve as a decoration and an expression of identity.

Annas’ families and neighbours live in small houses on the property. Grandmother Anna, for example (yes, everyone here is obviously called Anna), welcomes me with the words: “We are people too!”. She is just happy that I am coming to visit Kharkiv despite the war.

Grandmother Anna shows me her fruit and vegetable garden. This is her realm here, I get it. There are also dogs and cats.

The two Annas were busy even before the war. Now they have to care additionally for humanitarian aid. In the liberated areas around Kharkiv people suffer: They need food, clothing, electricity and heating … there is a lack of everything.

The NGO Sphere helps women affected by the war, delivers aid packages. Also included: Pregnancy tests and contraceptives. Sphere had to close its premises in March because of the attacks. Anna hopes that they will soon be able to reopen the Community Centre.

But now, the two have to attend a three-day training on “Security at War”. They will learn how to behave at military checkpoints. How to stop heavy bleeding. Stuff like that. War for the advanced.

But they also sacrifice some of their time for me and show me the city, its beautiful and bombed sites. We meet people. They explain a lot.

In front of a State library after its “liberation” by Russian missiles. Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

On my second day in Kharkiv, Anna and Anna attend their training, I visit the city. And I come across several bombed buildings like the library above. Grandparents tell the family history to their children; books and documents tell the history of a country. The Russian aggression is meant to destroy Ukraine’s identity, and that becomes particularly visible here.

I don’t know anything about war

But I don’t understand why there are hanging pieces of cloth on the fence. I move closer and inspect the yard. Are these scraps supposed to be some kind of memorial? I must have observed the fence a little too eagerly, because now a security guard approaches me.

“Why the cloth?”, I ask the guard, glad that I might be able to solve this riddle. He looks at me. I realise that my question seems to be stupid. And that’s when he says, “It’s camouflage”. I watch him. He watches me. “Sorry”, I apologize. “I don’t know anything about war.” And suddenly, I feel very sad. I notice that he realizes it, my sadness.

In Kharkiv, numerous shops in the subway sell everything from electrical goods to cheese and sausage. This is really cool. I mean, it was very cool.

Now it feels like 90 percent of the shops are closed. The metro served as a shelter for many weeks and was therefore not working. Many people have left the city. At the moment, business is simply not worth it.

I understand that, on the other hand, people celebrate the Jewish “Hanukkah” now. It usually happens in December and has similarities to Christmas (the lights, presents and fat food). But historically and religiously it has nothing in common with it.

But: It is a sign of hope.

Saltivka is no place for children any more

Due to the missile strikes, the heat supplies were destroyed in early spring. Many kindergartens have since been closed. Saltivka is no longer a place where people can raise their children.

UNICEF has set up childcare in the metro. This is important, but hardly a substitute for the regular facilities. Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

Marina drives me to bombed-out houses. “It’s one thing to see the photos in the newspapers. It’s another thing to stand in front of them,” I say. “And it’s still different to have lived here,” the young mother adds quietly.

“Tell your fellows in Germany,” she says. Then she leaves.

Ukraine Power. Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

#FundReise #MunichKyivLove #18000Euro

This is how you can help

Individual help

Munich Kyiv Queer has its own fundraising campaign via to support people in Ukraine with whom we have worked closely over the past ten years. Keyword: #FundReise. They are our friends and partners. We know them personally and we miss them. We can help fast, directly and unbureaucratically.

Help for War Victims

The association “Bridge to Kiev” supports people in need, especially children and large families.

Recipient: Brücke nach Kiew e.V.
Bank: Raiffeisenbank München Süd eG
IBAN: DE74 7016 9466 0000 0199 50
Keyword: #FundTravel

A donation receipt can be issued for donations of 200 euros and more.

Help for LGBTIQ* organisations

To support LGBTIQ* in Ukraine we have helped set up the Alliance Queer Emergency Aid Ukraine, in which around 40 German LGBTIQ* Human Rights organisations are involved. All these groups have access to very different Human Rights organisations in Ukraine and use funds for urgently needed care or evacuation of queer people. Every donation helps and is used 100 percent to benefit queer people in Ukraine. Donate here


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