Stage 6: Chernivtsi

We have arrived in Chernivtsi – a safe haven in Ukraine, where probably around 100,000 internally displaced persons are currently stranded. No one knows the exact number. Here we meet Oxana Matiychuk at the university.

Oxana is the head of the Ukrainian-German Cultural Society Chernivtsi, which is part of the Gedankendach Center at Yuri Fedkovych University. As an employee of the International Office she is responsible for the exchange with German-speaking universities. She has very close ties to Jena, most recently through a joint European theater project in which Freie Bühne Jena was also involved. Later she tells us that they worked together in Czernowitz on a play about the First World War, which was also performed on the Friedensberg in Jena. Many people from Germany and all over Europe visited her in Czernowitz and worked with her. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, almost no one comes anymore.

We wait for Oxana in front of the gates of the university where a big banner is attached. When we ask her what this means, she says: “Bunkers”. The university has two large air-raid shelters where people can take shelter in case of alarm. Before we go to her office, she takes us through the basement rooms. Laughing, she points out a large houseplant and several carpets. The janitor is trying to make the bunkers a little more livable. Oxana explains that if the alarm sounds during our conversation, we should go straight down here. She would then follow, but would first have to make sure that everyone else found their way to the shelter as well. Currently, there are a lot of high school graduates at the university who are registering for the next semester.

Back in her office, we briefly tell her about our trip and then ask Oxana and Oleg, one of her co-workers – he studied in Weimar and knows Jena well – about her current situation. What life is like at the university and their daily routine in view of the war. While we are listening to them, it happens: in the middle of the sentence the alarm sounds. Oxana immediately answers the phone and notifies everyone at the university. We go into the bunker.

After a few minutes, Oxana also arrives and we continue our conversation. Between us the houseplant that the janitor has put up. In the room next door, students are passing the time playing table tennis. Oxana tells us about the solidarity of the people in Ukraine, who support each other and especially the soldiers at the front – which is usually called “at zero” here – with everything in their power. Later she shows us packages of “emergency compresses” and water filters in her colleague’s office . “Farewell gifts” for colleagues and friends who are being drafted.

We only talk about the Future Center in passing. Nevertheless, Oxana emphasizes how important mutual exchange is, especially now. We agree to tighten the bonds for closer cooperation between the institutions in Czernowitz and Jena. In the design of a future center, she wishes to be able to participate. To bring people closer together, she says. Talking to each other, listening to each other, would be more important today than ever. For the future, she wishes for Ukraine to be freed from the Russian invaders within its old borders and for her to be able to live in her homeland again without fearing for the lives of people close to her – and her own.

The detailed interview with Oxana Matiychuk will be part of our travel documentary later.

Text: Christian Faludi & Tobias Schwessinger

Photos: Christian Faludi