Russians don't like Ukrainians

Concerts for soldiers are a special experience. Sometimes you appear in strange establishments. Throughout the war years, I and my musician friends have played in all sorts of places - in ramshackle halls of sanatoriums, in shelters that were buried in the ground as protection against artillery fire on a river bank, in Soviet-era bunkers built for the event of a nuclear war with the capitalist west.

We bring the equipment with us. The sound is often strange. But the audience is grateful. The soldiers usually react openly, after all they don't listen to many concerts. So they are happy about the visit, even if they are not rock'n'roll fans. It is sung for them. And the musicians came for them. So there are people who think of them. That's important in war. Especially in a country where many have already forgotten about the war.

If a Russian spokesman says that there is no danger, it means that the danger is very real

After the performances there is a meal, the soldiers chat, exchange news and complain about the politicians. It's the same as always - nothing has changed here in the war zone. The changes are in the hinterland. There the moods fluctuate, there are information attacks, the rhetoric changes.

Lately there has been a lot new, we have enough material for entertainment. Russian troops were standing at our border and were only recently withdrawn, and we heard soothing statements from Ukrainian dignitaries and blatantly provocative initiatives by the separatists, statements from Western politicians, the position of the Kremlin - all of this merged into a heavy drone from which one could hear individual words such as Could hear "war", "escalation" or "invasion". They were heavy, scary words.

In general, the entire information campaign worked in such a way that every new reassuring statement only aroused new suspicion: if a Russian spokesman says that there is no danger, then it is more likely that this danger is very real, and if the representatives of the European Union hold their own Confirm your point of view, then it's likely vague and shaky.

In the seven years of the war we got used to not trusting the information, we now know that the information is primarily a component of this war. That's why you get the feeling that the last escalation was an element of the information war. The war is present in the media. But in Donbass itself this war is hardly visible. Here you get information about it more from the media.

During the election campaign, Ukrainian President Zelensky promised to end the war quickly.

The commander of the unit for which our band gave their concert says nothing new either. For him, the talk about the "escalation" is an episode in the seven-year-long confrontation. Many civilians in the hinterland interpreted a ceasefire announced months ago as the end of the war, but the soldiers understood that any agreement with Putin was only a utopia.

After the events in the spring and summer of 2014, when the Ukrainian army was surrounded in the cities of Ilovajsk and Debaltseve, it was clear that it can be expensive if you believe the Russian leadership. That is why most of the soldiers expressed skepticism about the ceasefire anyway. Sooner rather than later, they said, the Russians will hurt them. So it was. The commander speaks unemotionally about the current situation - it comes as it should.

In any case, the soldiers talk the most calmly about the war. Even at this time, when television and the Internet are filled with warnings and ominous predictions, and some phrases such as "beginning of the third world war" or "the rockets aimed at Europe" are easy to get off the lips.

Information can frighten and depress people. The further from the front line, the more reasons there are to worry, it seems. But when you talk to the soldiers, you get the impression that everything is under control and that the worst is happening on social networks.

To person:

The poet and narrator Serhiy Zhadan was born in 1974 in the Luhansk region. His collection of poems "Antenne" (2020) was recently published in German, before that the novel "Internat" (2018), both by Suhrkamp.

When Russia began deploying troops, every effort was made to exude calm and confidence. The Ukrainian President paid a visit to the soldiers, the Interior Minister inspected units under his control, and the Defense Minister called on local authorities to refrain from calling a Home Guard because everything was in order.

But Ukrainians distrust the statements made by politicians, especially when they have not voted for a politician. The situation in which President Zelensky finds himself today - the commander in chief of the armed forces - is very typical.

Two years ago, during the election campaign, Volodimir Zelensky promised to end the war quickly; it was one of his central messages. His claim that an agreement could be reached with Russia "somewhere in the middle" sounded convincing to many Ukrainians. Indeed, they believed that one only had to withdraw the troops to end the war. Interestingly, Zelensky was also chosen by many soldiers.

Ukrainian society will never accept a surrender of its leadership

That was two years ago. The troops were withdrawn. The president has stressed time and time again that he wants to put an end to the skirmish. Only the skirmish doesn't end. Russian troops were relocated to Ukrainian borders. The attempt to come to terms with the Kremlin has failed again. And the Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Zelensky has to communicate with soldiers who have never taken him seriously as a politician anyway.

The president's rhetoric has undergone an interesting change. As the president of a country at war with an aggressor, sooner or later you have to look the truth in the face: all attempts to come to an agreement with the Kremlin are doomed to failure because, above all, they would mean giving up . And no Ukrainian government can accept that.

Ukrainian society is certainly quite colorful, also with a view of the Donbass and Russia. But since the conflict began in spring 2014, many people have been ready to defend their country with weapons in hand. That is why the president must not only take into account the opinion of his Western partners or the statements of Vladimir Putin in his statements, but also the reaction of Ukrainian society, which will never accept a surrender of its leadership.

When looking at the situation in eastern Ukraine and on the Ukrainian-Russian border, one should also bear in mind the following, which is logical, but is often overlooked: In seven years, millions of Ukrainians have had experience as soldiers at the front or as volunteers or somehow supported the army. The war changed thousands of people, their consciousness, their attitude towards their own country.

The country has changed too, although discussions of corruption and constant concern for election results often obscure it. Perhaps because of this, there was no mass panic over the information about the transfer of Russian troops to the Ukrainian borders.

Many Ukrainians understand very well. This war has been going on for seven years, it never went away, it was always next door. And the fact that some have learned not to notice it did not make its presence any less real. You just have to call things by their names. And stand up for his words. That's what the soldiers talk about. And we listen and plan new appearances.

Translated from the Ukrainian by Juri Durkot.