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Christian Diemer

Christian Diemer

Christian Diemer, 28, is from Rottweil in South Germany. Having studied musicology, arts management, and composition in Weimar, he is now writing from Berlin and obscure spots in East Europe, where he is currently working on his PhD thesis about traditional music in Ukraine. 

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Photo: Christian Diemer
Idyll with an egg-yellow Lada, on the shores of the Dnipro-Donbass canal.

 

In the final part of his exclusive series for E&M, Christian Diemer travels to Sakhnovshchyna in eastern Ukraine, where celebrations are also taking place to mark the anniversary of the village’s liberation during the Second World War. The atmosphere proves, however, to be very different from that of nearby Lozova, and just 150 kilometres to the east, war is again darkening Ukrainian skies.

At seven in the morning, Anna knocks on my door. I am supposed to be taking the elektrychka [regional train] from Lozova to Sakhnovshchyna at 8:46 a.m. Sakhnovshchyna, a small town with around 9,000 inhabitants in the Kharkiv region, is 50 kilometres from Lozova. The Red Army took a day to get there. Consequently, Sakhnovshchyna celebrates its city holiday one day later than Lozova.

But my friends have thought things over during the night. "It is written in your face that you are a foreigner", says Anna. "Times have changed. The war has attracted bad people to our region. It is dangerous for you to go by elektrychka. I will drive you to Sakhnovshchyna."

"Are you afraid to drive with me? I can drive. Only my car is very old." Actually I am quite OK with having company. Anna has a cheerful, vivid voice and laugh. And I immediately fall in love with her car. An egg-yellow Lada, ordered back in the 70s by some relative with good party connections. I can adjust the angle of my seat with a screw. When Anna brakes, my seat slides forward. However fast she drives, the speedometer stubbornly points to 0. And Anna goes fast, hammering over the potholes and crevices, slowing a little or pulling around hard only for the meanest traps. And I understand why this car is made for those roads. It swallows it all, uncomplainingly. "We don’t need a speedometer or a safety belt. These streets are our safety belt, our built-in speed limit. No one can go too fast on them anyway."

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Photo: Christian Diemer

Lenin likeliness – as if time had stood still, young Lozovans carry remnants of the Soviet past across the parade

Following on from his trip to Korosten' for the pototo fritter festival, E&M's Christian Diemer is again caught up in a Ukrainian city's celebrations as Lovoza marks the 71st anniversary of its liberation during the Second World War and honours the veterans who fought to achieve that freedom. However, thoughts of a more current conflict are never far from the surface.

"You are not one of us", says the man with the beer on the opposite seat. "Where are you from?" Early morning, I am on the train to Lozova, province town between the eastern Ukrainian metropolis of Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovs’k. "Ich – heiße – Sergey – hoh", he pronounces the words like a pair of copulating elephants, to make me understand how much he likes the decisive, harsh, and "manly" German language, as he puts it. Russian, he claims, is a soft language. French is for women anyway. Sergey gives me one of his beers. He is of the opinion that we should solve crosswords together.

Sergey is Russian. He studied in Saint Petersburg for eleven years before coming to Luhans’k. Is he one of those that Putin claims to protect? "Putin is the second Hitler", he makes clear. "Russia is a dictatorship. Here in Ukraine, you can speak freely, there you cannot." Like many, he is sure Putin wants a land connection to Crimea, which would, apart from Donets’k and Luhans’k, also involve the port city of Mariupol’. He assumes Putin will go further too, taking Dnipropetrovs’k and Odesa. And who knows whether that will be it.

Sergey shows me his passport, a temporary one, he has lost the original. The authorities in Luhans’k offered him a new one, but from their new government, the LNR [Luhans’ka Narodna Respublika, Luhans’k People's Republic]. "What the hell for, I don’t want that, I want my Ukrainian passport!" He left for Dnipropetrovs’k.

Sunday, 25 January 2015 00:00

On the Brink: The Hippie Bandits

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Photo: Christian Diemer

Failure of a thousand-year-old past: the empty middle of Korosten', Central Ukraine (August 2013)

In the sixth part of E&M's exclusive series on current developments in Ukraine, we find our correspondent Christian Diemer in the city of Korosten', where he gets into the spirit and celebrates the deruny (potato fritter) holiday like a local.

"Korosten', the city of the Drevlyans, welcomes you", says a wooden board somewhere in the town. "Korosten' is a city of bandits", says Sasha, the cab driver.

Korosten', is certainly one of the best connected cities imaginable. A place of some 66,000 inhabitants that not even all Ukrainians would know, yet with direct train connections not only to L'viv and nearby Kyiv, but also to Uzhhorod, Kharkiv, Odesa, Warsaw, Chişinau, Sofia, Minsk, Saint Petersburg, Moscow. The endless rattling and clattering of trains resounds from all sides. It doesn't even seem connected to the railway lines at all; placeless, ubiquitous comings and goings float around the lonely car garages, one-storey huts, scrapyards alongside the empty streets. The barking of two dogs chasing each other slices through the dawn. Other dogs answer, their howling from afar and near merges with the rattling of the train, or was there even a train? An early bicycle bumps by. A radiating sun rises, shooting its beams onto slab buildings.

I have found the centre. It is the negation of a centre. A vast square, surrounded by faceless tower blocks. Some seem to bear mysterious decorations. One carries an aerial. It is nothing. Every notion of meaningfulness in individual parts of the centre is negated by the utter emptiness of its whole. With seven lanes, the road running through seems improbably large. Once in a while one Lada howls by.

Thursday, 20 November 2014 00:00

On the Brink: The Forsaken Paradise

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Photo: Christian Diemer

Chernivtsi, morbid paradise of decaying beauty. Since 2006, when this photo was taken, the city has smartened itself up a lot, thanks to an efficient mayor – and smuggling into the EU via the nearby Romanian border.

Continuing on his journey of exploration throughout Ukraine, Christian Diemer arrives in Chernivtsi, a forgotten city in the west of the country, the fate of which has been inextricably tied up with the turbulent history of Eastern and Central Europe over the last centuries.

I have found paradise on earth. Nobody knows that it exists. The world has long forgotten about it. Even the Ukrainians, that blessed people who live so close by, would not have it on their radar – their smallest regional capital, lost somewhere in the most remote south western corner of their large country, twenty minutes from what is now the border of Romania and the outer edge of the EU.

TRAINS LONG GONE

In May 1914 I could have boarded a train at Vienna's Nordbahnhof at 12:35. A first class ticket would have cost just under 100 crowns, a second-class ticket around 60. Only 19 hours later, the low, elegant art nouveau train station would have come into sight, couched in the gentle bend of the railway lines amidst a green, flat valley. As the train came to a halt, a sign would have drifted in front of the dirty carriage window: "Czernowitz". Maybe a train guard with a handlebar moustache would have shouted: "Endstation, bitte alle aussteigen! Last stop, all change here!", in a melodic Austrian accent, accompanied by the curses of the Ruthenians, Poles, or Jews heaving their leather suitcases down the tall carriages.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014 00:00

On the Brink: V for Villainy

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Photo: Christian Diemer
 
Artificial waterfalls cascade down the slope at the former residence of toppled Ukrainian 
president Vyktor Yanukovych

 

In this fourth installment of E&M's exclusive series about the current situation in Ukraine "On the Brink", Christian Diemer takes a trip to the former presidential residence in Mezhyhir'ya, not far from the Ukrainian capital.

A girl in a headscarf is waiting where the buses leave for the president's former residence. "No, I am not going to the residence, I live in Mezhyhir'ya." Ayya, 28, is a refugee from Donetsk. "I always wanted to live in Kyiv once in my life. And my family has come with me. So I am OK with that." Ayya is studying to become a dentist, but the university in Donetsk is no longer functioning. She moved to Kyiv just in time to register for the winter semester, which began a couple of weeks ago. "Well, how do you think the situation is over there?! Terrible." And whose side is she on? Instead of an answer, Ayya points at her backpack, where a blue and yellow ribbon is fixed.

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Photo: Christian Diemer
 
Just half a year ago, buildings were burning and over 80 people were shot dead on Kyiv's
Independence Square.

 

As part of an excursion organised by the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes, Christian Diemer travels to Kyiv and meets with various figures from Ukrainian civil society, all now trying to come to terms with a post-Euromaidan world.

A return to Kyiv

Vast, elegant, full of contrasts, an ocean of green and blue with golden domes in between – this is Kyiv, capital of Ukraine, home to nearly three million inhabitants. A futuristic mix of torn-down concrete barracks, crumbling stucco façades, mirroring glass towers, some with opulent pyramid or concave roofs or bridges between each other. Seventeen per cent of Ukraine's GDP is generated here, with city-centre rents no lower than in downtown Munich. Wide as an ocean, the river Dnipro divides the city. Standing on the riverside promenade, with the roar of Porsches and Ladas, Hummers and Kamaz behind, it is hard to believe that beyond the green, tree-covered island to which the metro is heading, there is yet another river branch to cross before one even reaches the other bank.

Monday, 29 September 2014 00:00

On the Brink: The Silent Independence Day

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Photo: Christian Diemer
Hutsul woman and Adonis on the Ploshcha Rynok in L'viv

 

The second part of Christian Diemer's series On the Brink takes us to the heart of celebrations for the Ukrainian national holiday in L'viv. With Ukrainian patriotism stronger than ever, Christian is surprised to find himself at a muted and pensive Independence Day party...

A Silent commemoration

A large map of Ukraine welcomes the newcomer at L'viv's train station: "Plan-scheme of the railway connections of Ukraine". The map, framed by majestic Corinthian columns and pillars, is lit up sharply by a flickering advertisement on the neighbouring wall. However, recent events are not reflected within it. The tangle of orange lines still interweaves with Crimea. Luhans'k and Donetsk in the east appear as well-connected as Uzhhorod and Chernivtsi in the west. And yet the map, lit up and down over and over again, does appear in a different light. Red digits over the station entrance display the date: 24.8. Ukraine is to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of its independence from Russia. Or rather, it isn’t...

Pre-autumnal rain is drizzling, the morning passers-by walk around busily, sleepily. If it were not for the hundreds of blue and yellow flags that can be found on almost every building and car, one would hardly notice the national holiday. Even in the centre, where I seek shelter from the rain in a tasteful, Viennese-style coffee house, there is not a lot to be seen. In one corner of the Ploshcha Rynok [market square], there is an art installation made from rectangular glass panes: historic photographs of Hutsul people layered over UNESCO-listed façades, washed-out memories of an ephemeral yet subconsciously manifest past. In front of the Adonis fountain, a man with a Cossack plaid proudly poses for his friend's camera. Some people walk around with flags or blue and yellow ribbons, dressed in vyshyvanki, traditional embroidered clothing.  "It is still early," apologises a passer-by. "And it's raining."

Thursday, 18 September 2014 00:00

On the Brink: Streets of Gold, Streets of Rubble

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Photo: Christian Diemer
En route to Chernivtsi earlier this month

 

In this first installment of E&M's new special series On the Brink, Christian Diemer shares a Ukrainian driver's views on Putin, women and Europe. A word of warning, though: it does contain some colourful language.

"Ukrainians should erect a golden memorial to the sprinter"

For more than twenty hours, with just a few ten-minute toilet breaks, Andri has been sitting behind the steering wheel, hulking neck, bald skull, tracksuit bottoms. A golden sun set over the endless plains of eastern Poland hours ago, while the white van was sailing along towards the end of Europe. Past it, beyond the border, the sailing has turned to trudging, rolling, shoving. Deep potholes, ruts, clefts, rifts, lengthwise and right across, make the paved road an obstacle course, forcing the speed down to almost zero every few metres. Dawn is still far off. Howling diesel in a lightless night, curving in erratic wavy lines, the sturdy Sprinter fights its way to where it looks as though the fewest bumps and traps lurk (and that is, if at all, on the opposite lane, where else). "What would Ukrainians do without the Sprinter!", shouts Andri. "What those cars have to endure on our Ukrainian roads, and still they never break!"

Saturday, 14 December 2013 12:57

The Future of Reporting Europe Workshop

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Winter is our favourite season at E&M: workshop time! For the third time after Hamburg (January 2011) and Berlin (December 2011), the European online magazine organised a workshop to spread the word on transnational journalism and at the same time bring together a select bunch of European ‘Me’s with the ‘Me’s of E&M. With 400 applications, the selection was tough, but certainly worthwhile. The workshop brought four E&M editors together with 18 top-notch participants, whose backgrounds in journalism were both diverse and ambitious, ranging from European press review to euro|topics, Al Jazeera, Radio France International, BBC, Café Babel magazine, and Cosmopublic.eu. (And of course, some had contributed to E&M itself.) Ages spanned from 19 to 30, and 15 countries were gathered around one table.

Saturday, 14 December 2013 10:46

#euromaidan

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This time it is conspiratorial. From the clutches of the FSB, my friend, the politest, shyest, humblest young Pole I know, Z., has escaped. On a bus he has come, on a bus he will leave, appearing in Berlin for only a few hours before vanishing again into the East. Blackish clouds loom low over Warschauer Straße, where I wait for him, storm front Xavier blows squalls and gusts as he emerges. In the cellar of a Kreuzberg bar, where the world is upside down and no cellular phone can connect or be connected, E&M got this exclusive interview with Ziemowit Jóźwik, long-standing E&M author and the inventor of the #euromaidan.  

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