Cruel and Barbaric and Pointless
What else is there to say?
This morning, after dropping Hugo at school and driving back into town to take Bruno to Kita, I pulled up at a red light. The sun was blinding me a little; it’s been unusually sunny in Berlin these past few weeks. “The Riddle” was playing on the 80’s radio station that Hugo’s obsessed with and insists on listening to in the car. Bruno was sitting quietly in his car seat behind me. I was squinting at the intersection ahead of me and checking the fuel economy display, my new hobby, as the motor hummed beneath me, when Bruno piped up out of nowhere:
“Mommy, can I go fight for the Ukrainians? I want to go fight for them.”
Bruno is five years old.
What else is there to say? This war is cruel and barbaric and pointless. Like all wars, yes, of course. The suffering is not new or more noble or more in need of saving. And still the injustice burns. Every time I take a hot shower, or wash the dishes, or turn on the gas stove, a wave of guilt and fury comes over me.
It is so close to us. Lviv is closer to Berlin as the crow flies than Paris. Fleeing Ukrainians are arriving in Berlin in great numbers, something like 13,000 a day. We have so many friends with a Ukrainian family now living in their spare room, in their basement, in their living room. Nearly everyone I know is involved in some degree in the relief effort, raising money, rushing supplies to the train stations to welcome these traumatized people, donating their clothes, their furniture, pet food, whatever they can. There is little else to think of or worry about. Even Covid talk has nearly disappeared, though Germany now boasts the highest infection rates in Europe.
I read about people building bunkers in Italy. About Germans hoarding toilet paper and canned goods again. My reaction is ghoulish amusement. Who are these people? Who actually wants to survive a nuclear attack that much? Why not put that energy into saving Ukraine now?
I read a cookbook about the Black Sea. Will I ever get to see Odessa? Will Putin have the nerve to destroy it too?
I read a Russian cookbook and make rassolnik, which is delicious. At the demonstrations I attend, the loudest applause is always for those in Russia brave enough to stand up against the war and risk punishment.
I start Life and Fate and stop again. The past, especially here, feels too far away for once.
My paternal great-grandparents were from Lviv. They emigrated to the United States around the turn of the century. My father remembers that they were Russian-speaking, but I know little else about them. Certainly nothing compared to my Italian mother’s family, where ancestors that far back are still referred to by their first names and spoken about in intimate emotional terms.
My mother’s father was cared for, in the last 13 years of his life, by a Ukrainian woman who became like family to us. She left her family in Ukraine to find work as a caregiver in Italy and we had the incredible good fortune that she ended up in our family. Gentle and kind, with the sweetest voice, Eugenia was the one by my Nonno’s side when he died in a hospital at nearly 100. She is still in Italy today, though she works for other people now. Her name is still on our mailbox; my mother helps her with her paperwork and legal issues. Decades of work in Italy have paid for the construction of a house for Eugenia’s daughter near Chernivtsi.
Eugenia wanted to stop working soon. To go home and be with Dmitry, her husband, and her grandchildren, who are still young. Eugenia’s son works in Germany and has a family there and, thank goodness, he is safe. But her husband and her daughter and her daughter’s children are all still in Ukraine. Chernivtsi is in the west of the country, which was spared violence until this past weekend.
Eugenia has begged her husband to come join her in Italy. But Dmitry refuses. He is old, he says, and wants to die in his country. He has a gun, he tells her. If the Russians come, he’ll kill them and then he’ll use the gun on himself.
What else is there to say?
I assume at this point that you know where to donate your money to help Ukrainians. I think it’s worth mentioning that large international aid organizations are just as worthy of your support as smaller ones. All are doing important work and all of them need your help, from Caritas to World Central Kitchen, from Razom for Ukraine to Unicef.
In particular, though, I’d like to shine a light on a Berlin-based aid organization called Be An Angel. They are working day and night to bring Ukrainians to safety, picking them up in buses on the border between Moldova and Ukraine and driving them to various locations in Germany. Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest countries and is currently sheltering something like 300,000 Ukrainians. Be An Angel was founded by Andreas Toelke, a former journalist, in 2015 when so many Syrians came to Germany and it does great work.
On Sunday, March 20th at 1:00 pm EST, I’ll be participating in a fundraising Bake-A-Thon along with nine others, organized by the wonderful Jennifer Kouvant of Six Dutchess Farm. I will be demo’ing how I make my Marbleized Poppy-Seed Cake from Classic German Baking. Tickets cost $25 and 100% of the proceeds will go to CARE, World Central Kitchen and Razom for Ukraine. To buy a ticket, go here. If you can’t make it at 1:00 EST, the event will be recorded and sent to you. Thank you.