“Stand with Ukraine” shines the digital billboard in the morning haze directly in front of the central bus station ZOB. A young man is here to welcome refugees who would never have thought of it himself. He is cold this Friday – eight days after Russia attacked Ukraine – while Ismayil waits at the central bus station. Just like the days before.
Ismayil Khayredinov is 36 years old, thin, has short brown hair under his cap and wears an outdoor jacket. This time there are about twelve helpers on site. Like everyone here, Ismayil wears a high-visibility yellow vest taped with the abbreviations of Ukrainian, Russian, German, English, and Czech. He says, “It’s important for me to show that I care about what happens to you.” In the days before he had listened to the news non-stop and every morning he went to the office depressed. In a group of telegrams, he learns that help is needed at the central bus station and goes there instead of to the office.
Ismayil’s fellow programmers also call him Issy. He is very open, honest and above all direct, they say. He bluntly explains to them and his bosses about him that he just can’t work right now. Issy is Ukrainian. He or Russian. Or none of this. He is from the Crimea. When he was annexed to Russia in 2014, he had been living abroad for seven years. First in Prague, then in Berlin. Crimea is like a huge village, he says. He has never felt comfortable there. “I’ve always felt like a European.” His family in Crimea received Russian passports. He continues to have Ukrainian. He says he doesn’t believe in nationalist borders and policies. He does not support Russia or Ukraine as a state. Ismayil Khayredinov is a Crimean Tatar. His grandparents were deported to Central Asia in 1944 under Stalin. Both his parents and himself were born in exile in Uzbekistan. Only in 1989 did they return to the Crimea. These were difficult times for parents when it was almost impossible to find a job as a Crimean Tatar. Ismayil only learns Russian and Ukrainian at school, foreign languages remain for him. Even 20 years after returning to the Crimea, the Khayredinovs do not feel accepted by the local population. Ismayil explains: “There is always this sadness in our souls that my people have not been treated well for generations.”
Stalin orders the deportation of all Crimean Tatars
In the 15th century, the Crimean Khanate was born, consisting mainly of a variety of peoples of Turkish origin. Crimea is turning into a center of the slave trade in the Black Sea region. Neighbors Poland-Lithuania and the Russian Tsarist Empire fear raids by the Crimean Tatars. In 1783, Tsarist Russia conquered the Crimean Khanate and subdued the residents. When some of the Crimean Tatars collaborated with the Wehrmacht in 1942, Stalin used it as a pretext for collective punishment: he ordered the deportation of all Crimean Tatars and created an image of this ethnic group as a traitor and enemy of the Soviet people, who still today has an impact today.
In Berlin, Ismayil has mostly international friends. As a programmer, he speaks a lot of English with colleagues. He is not interested in the Ukrainian community of the city, but for a while he tries to get in touch with the Crimean Tatars. Soon he will let him be too. He is married, he is also so involved through his German husband that he does not necessarily need the connection with his culture. He now he reads and listens to what’s happening in Ukraine – in Guardiansin the Novaya Gazeta, on Ukrainian TV. He is shocked, shocked. deeply sad. A friend from Kiev wrote that she will now try to travel by train with her son. One of his friends could register them here. So far no news of him. Yesterday he sent a lot of money back to his parents, who only have a small pension. He who knows if the sanctions against Russia will make it impossible in the near future.
More and more helpers are gathering at the bus station. Buses with refugees aren’t waiting for them anytime soon, and Ismayil can still buy coffee from a nearby bakery. The Theodor-Heuss-Platz street is noisy, the sun shines in Ismayil’s blue eyes, which have gray-green dots. He speaks carefully, calmly, sometimes a little distant, as if he wants to beware of too many feelings. Then he laughs to shake off the discomfort. He doesn’t elaborate on what newcomers tell him. All their stories are sad. For days, he says, it has only been running on autopilot. His parents in the Crimea are fine. He has a sister, two nephews and a niece. Everything ok so far. But of course they too were afraid. Much military technology has been brought to Ukraine via Crimea. Nobody in Russia knows what is happening now.
And the German arms deliveries? As a pacifist, he is in favor of a total ban on the sale of arms. But if Ukraine doesn’t get any support now, it could be in the hands of the Russians in a short time. This must be prevented. It would give Putin the green light to continue and maybe do something similar with Lithuania, Estonia, Poland. “As Crimean Tatars, we don’t trust Russia,” he says. Asimulation, instead of the real coexistence of all ethnic groups and all cultures, was a problem in Soviet times and still is today. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia never apologized for the suffering of the Crimean Tatars or offered reparations. Instead, he notes a renewed Stalin cult in Russia, which is hard for the Crimean Tatars to bear. Find the official Russian rhetoric with a focus on traditional values, on a Russian, alien people. However great the differences within Europe are, it always succeeds find compromises and unity among the European states. Issy thinks she’s inspiring. And especially for young people, the freedom to travel is so important to develop a better understanding of other ways of life. Respect each other, that’s what it is. And to understand that “your own is always only one possibility among the many that exist in the world”.
At the base of the helpers in front of a small barracks at the bus station, a babble of Ukrainian and English voices. Issy wants to be alone for a short time, there are enough helpers today. Now she is happily getting back to work: as a senior developer at a small German telemedicine company, she is currently planning a free program to support Ukrainian refugees. The company donates employee time to teleconferencing patients and medical volunteers. This is how Ismayil can help further. And as a programmer, he can do what’s important to him: “We should find ways to understand each other better.”
The Easter holidays and the seventh week of the war are ending. What hopes does Ismayil have? On the phone he blurts out that she doesn’t have any. And he adds: «I hope that the generation of refugee children does not have to grow up in other countries. It would certainly be the end of the Ukrainian people and their culture ”. He knows that two generations in exile are enough to make the relationship with his own cultural community vanish. His great-grandfather had returned from the front in May 1944, when he was deported a week later along with some 200,000 other Crimean Tatars. Ismayil’s grandmother was old enough to clearly remember that train ride: she was four. She passed on her stories and her ideas to her children and grandchildren. But these were just ideas Ismayil had about her home country until she was able to set foot in it again. She hopes that the refugees can return and rebuild their cities. Almost laughing at her, she adds: “And that in 200 years, Ukrainians and Russians will once again be brotherly peoples”.