#FundReise Day 26 – Odesa, here we go again

02.01.2023 | cb — No comments

Her first trip to Odesa was quite short. Sibylle still has things to do in the city: meeting friends, research, coming to terms with her war experiences.

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: better (than Odesa last time) & better (than Kharkiv, definitely)
Temperature: warm
Donations: 13.161,78 out of 18.000 euros
Special occurrences: That’s the spirit
Alle blog posts: Sibylle’s Charity Trip to Ukraine

For the third time during my trip I am attending Odesa train station, but it is the first time in daylight and I realise: This building is beautiful. I arrived by night train from Kharkiv.

Sibylle by the sea. Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

Now I’m wandering through Ukraine like a fool due to the internal and external dynamics of travelling through a country that is in the midst of a brutal war. But my first stay in Odesa was simply too short.

For the first time ever, I dare to rent a flat via Airbnb. To get a bit of privacy.

The Odesa railway station featuring my night train. Such a beauty! Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

However, Odesa still suffers from a significant shortcut of electricity, though the situation has improved since the recent attacks. Thus, my “privacy” takes mostly place in a dark, off power Airbnb flat where neither wifi nor mobile internet work.

As my appartment is located on the ground floor with windows to the inner courtyard, the torches of my returning neighbours flicker through my living room at night. It’s a bit creepy. I feel like I’m being observed by burglars, but I bravely shine them back.

Don’t break in, I’m here

It’s like I’m saying: “Hello, I am home, there’s no point breaking in.” Better safe than sorry. Fortunately, the curfew from 11 p.m. brings darkness for everyone. Now, only Russian missiles are threatening me.

Torches are irreplaceable in Ukraine now. Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

I like Odesa: the sea, the city, the people. The cats. They used to roam the pavements, but they’ve disappeared. Due to war? To winter? I don’t know.

Smoked fish, beer – feels almost like holidays

After Kharkiv, Odesa almost seems idyllic to me. For the time being, I am not approachable for any “theoretical discurses”. I need to rest.

When tension looses. Screenshot: Sibylle von Tiedemann

I have known Iryna Hanenkova since 2017, when she took photos for Gay Alliance Ukraine’s Creative Protest Festival in Odesa. Naomi Lawrence, Uwe Hagenberg and I offered workshops as our contribution from Munich. I like thinking back on this event that ended with OdesaPride.

Meeting with an old friend

Iryna took also part in Uwe Hagenberg’s workshop on “community building” and stayed with me at the time. For Munich Kyiv Queer she writes about her everyday life during the war in Odesa.

Iryna is only 27 years old, but very serious. I think it’s the war, and her work with disabled children. “The fact that Zelensky stayed in Ukraine is what made it possible for Ukraine to fight as a country”, she says. Otherwise every city would fight for itself,” she explains to me while we meet in a café.

I love talking about Zelensky, the comedian and actor who found the role of his lifetime as a war president. It might be that half of all Facebook hearts comes from my account.

We take a long walk by the sea, eat smoked fish and discover a craft beer called “Munich”. It almost feels like a vacation. Almost.

German crimes in Ukraine

In my blog I write about the Russian war. I write as a German and as a historian.

Germans committed unbelievable crimes during the Second World War, especially in Ukraine. They were soldiers of the Wehrmacht, police officers, officials behind their desks.

In Odesa, Jewish life once flourished like nowhere else in the former Russian Empire or the later Soviet Union. You can still see this when having lunch or dinner. You will find the Jewish dish “Forschmak” on every menu: It is a small appetiser, a foretaste, to put it like this.

“Forschmak”, an appetiser of Jewish cuisine with the ingredients herring and apple. Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

The Brodsky Synagogue was the first synagogue in Eastern Europe with an organ; it thus belonged to a reformed congregation. The building was taken from the parish in 1925, then profaned and used by the “Rosa Luxemburg” workers’ club.

Today, the Brodsky Synagogue houses the State Archives. If “liberated” by Russian missiles, which are often directed against archives, museums and other items of Ukrainian culture, a piece of Jewish history would be lost forever. For now, the building still stands…

The crimes of the Germans in the Second World War were not only directed against Jews, but against the entire population. Against the “inferior” Slavs.

Odesa’s Synagogue: Today it houses the State Archives. Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

Nobody talked about these crimes until the 1990s in Germany, when, for the first time, an exhibition was opened called “The Crimes of the German Wehrmacht”. It was very controversial. However, Heinrich Böll, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote about his time as a soldier already shortly after the end of the war: The text is called “Damals in Odessa” and was published in his short story collection “Wanderer, kommst du nach Spa…”.

Living history

But back to my trip: Airbnb has also been offering “discoveries” for a few years now, so I book a guided tour of the memorial park of Odesa’s coastal defences in WW2. It’s called “Battery 411”. That’s of interest today.

Without words. Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

I really wanted to do this tour. My booking is not a solidarity action like those that took place especially in the first weeks of the war, when people booked rooms, flats and activities in Ukraine to send money to war victims.

The bus ride to the memorial park takes an hour. There I meet Stanislav. He works at the Historical Museum of Odesa and wrote his master’s thesis on tanks. At the beginning of the tour, the sirens of the Ukrainian air defence start howling, but Stanislav remains calm despite the missiles being fired by Russia. So I stay calm too.

Thursday, 29th of December. In Odesa, I become an ear witness during a guided tour. Screenshot: Sibylle von Tiedemann

If someone had told me a year ago that I would be attacked by Russian missiles in 2022 – I would not have believed it.

But it seems to me even more grotesque that a Ukrainian and a German historian walk through historical defence systems from the Second World War together – when actually the Red Army defended itself against the Germans – and we both trust the Ukrainian air defence.

Balcony in Odesa. At the top it says “Slava Ukraini”, at the bottom “Russian warship, fuck you!”. Surrounded by poppies (symbol for war victims) and a sunflower (symbol for Ukraine). Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

Tanks, howitzers, aircraft and submarines from various eras can be seen on these historical grounds, as well as a historical defence installation from the Second World War.

Stanislav explains me everything, I am the only participant of the tour. At the end of the tour, he offers me a copy of his master’s thesis.

Odesa’s Opera House is a landmark. I am determined to take at least photos in the ticket hall. I enter, ask for permission and am promptly given a guided tour. “Russian is a bit out of fashion now”, I say trying to disperse any possible irritation about the language I speak. I add that I also understand English and German.

Speaking Russian at the opera?

Another visitor in the opera’s box office takes this as an opportunity and gets angry: “Why do you have to ban pieces by Pushkin or music by Tchaikovsky? – The lady I talked to dryly answers: “Why do you forbid people to live?” Then out tour starts. In Russian. It is my guide’s mother tongue. Nothing is black and white here. For God’s sake.

They still sell tickets for the New Year’s programme and so I spontaneously invite Svitlana Grigorijanz and Nastya Kirichenko. They were in Munich with their Lesbian-Feminist Theatre in 2015, where they performed at the Eine-Welt-Haus as part of a cooperation between Munich Kyiv Queer and the Lesbenkulturtage.

Ukrainian will win this war

Both are from Kherson, a city that people all over the world know by its sad history now. It was liberated on 11th of November. Nastya and Svitlana managed to escape from the Russian-occupied city before on a boat. I don’t know the details, but their dog Drori still seems very frightened to me.

Drori, a refugee’s dog from Kherson. I just have to cuddle her. Photo: private

The Opera’s impressive New Year’s programme features a best-of and at the end the singers perform “Happy New Year” by ABBA, as can be seen here in the VIDEO.

I am touched and almost have to cry.

With Nastya and Svitlana at the Odesa Opera House. Photo: Sibylle von Tiedemann

“We believe, we can, we win. Slava Ukraini!”, they say at the end. That is the spirit I feel all over Ukraine again and again, everywhere for weeks now. Despite the horror here.

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