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When Christian Diemer set off for Ukraine with the Eurobus project, plenty of surprises were in store for him - for a start, he never expected to make so many friends in such a short time! Here he tells us the story of a journey which challenged his preconceptions...

Warsaw, Poland, 9th of May 2009

Photo: Christian Diemer
A dancer at the Schuman Parade

The city is vibrating with the cheerful rhythms of the Schuman Parade, a shimmering blaze of multicoloured banners, flags and faces is rolling through the handsome, ancient city centre, and yellow star-shaped confetti is blown into a cloudless blue sky: Poland is celebrating its membership of the European Union.

Photo: Christian Diemer
The journey begins: flags flying in Warsaw

Part of the procession: the Eurobus, a five-star coach decorated with the flags of Europe and Ukraine, containing 13 young Germans, Poles and Ukrainians who only met the night before. This is their first day aboard the coach, setting off east to Ukraine for a two-and-a-half-week journey. On their yellow t-shirts, small icons depict Germany, Poland and Ukraine forming one coherent figure. It is surrounded by the names of their destinations: Volodymerets, Dubrovytsa, Korosten, Lyubotin, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Zadonecke, Lozova, Zolochiv, Melitopol, Berdyansk. Except Kyiv, the names are all Greek to most of them - or all Ukrainian...

What is the purpose of the Eurobus endeavour? The Facebook-group outlines it as follows: "to bring European values to the small towns of four regions of Ukraine, to provide local youth with information on opportunities for young Ukrainians to study in the countries of EU, to build contacts of friendship between the Ukrainian youth and Polish and German young people." Rather a big job, and I - a 22-year-old student of composition, musicology, literature and arts management at Weimar's Franz Liszt music conservatory, currently living abroad in Paris - am playing my part in it.

Eurobus


The passengers: 13 young Germans, Poles and Ukrainians - most of them students, all of them enthusiastic about Europe

The journey: travelling from town to town across Ukraine, the participants discussed the EU with young people and forged new friendships between their own countries and the Ukraine.

Get involved: http://www.eurobus.fri.com.ua
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=92359855217

Volodymerets, Western Ukraine, 11th of May 2009

Our first day entirely spent on Ukrainian territory, after a short night ended early by the crowing of cockerels. It corresponds to our diffuse ideas of what awaits us when a rickety Soviet school bus carries us through dense fog and a vast, flat landscape to the local school, where we are going to hold a training session. But the fog is beginning to clear, and the school is the first of a series of welcome surprises. It's not only that the vast majority of the pupils speak English reasonably well and are quite informed about European issues: very few German country schools would provide a computer for every eight pupils, as well as specially designated rooms for concerts, dancing, woodwork, exhibitions and even for skype. We persistently ask the coordinators whether it is a choice of elite schools we are visiting, but it seems not.

No wonder the trainings, held in six different places during the trip, turn out to be a success. Whether dealing theoretically with stereotypes and mutual perceptions or practically with study and exchange opportunities, the pupils hang on our every word. When jointly creating a map of Europe, one statement comes up again and again: Ukraine is situated in the centre of Europe.

Photo: Christian Diemer
Christian working with school children

Those who know the political situation in this divided country might assume that the more we come east, the more this would change to the statement, "Ukraine is Russia's protégé." Not so: even in regions where people usually don't speak Ukrainian but Russian, the young generation is enthusiastic about Europe.

Thus, wherever we stop, the resonance is immense. Mobile numbers, email addresses, invitations are exchanged. Some of us achieve pop-star status. Lucky for those who know a little bit of Russian. The Eurobus - a continuous flirtation between Europe and Ukraine? It creates serious friendships though, regardless of generation and gender.{mospagebreak title=In Korosten}

Korosten, Western Ukraine, 12th of May 2009

As we put up an information tent in the city centre, a  somewhat older man with gold teeth approaches. When he picks up the fact that I am German, he takes on a manner of considerable urgency. Back then, he tells me, when the Germans were fighting against the Red Army in the region, a soldier of the Luftwaffe was shot while protecting a Ukrainian mother of three children. The guy claims to be the only one alive to know the location of the soldier's grave.

Photo: Christian Diemer
A Ukrainian girl in traditional costume

He carries round a notebook full of investigation on the case, he wants me to see to it that a TV documentary is launched about this German hero-martyr, as he calls him. I discuss with him for more than an hour, and as long we are around in the town, he comes back to our group every now and again.

Just around the next corner we plant blue and yellow flowers.

Photo: Christian Diemer
A very young fan of Eurobus!

When blossoming one day they will form the European flag in one flowerbed and the Ukrainian flag in the other. The seeds are passed to me by the daughter of my host family, a black-plaited local beauty. Hands touch many times, without words: what the unlucky soldier died for, what the man with the gold teeth wants never to be forgotten, is overcome, transformed into lasting friendship.

And a lot more to come. At a bacchanalian picnic in the countryside, at a Ukrainian ethnorock band's open air concert, on city quests, museum visits, at late-night discussions as well as chillout days in the woods or at the seaside... There is this moment when I become aware of no longer experiencing differences between Germans, Poles and Ukrainians, but between individuals. Maybe one of the most precious European values brought to Ukraine - or taken back home.


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