On October 14th, Tanja Dückers presented on Ukrainian writers living in exile in Germany. Dückers, an award-winning writer-poet and a well-known journalist and activist who regularly writes for prestigious weekly and daily newspapers in Germany, is the Distinguished Max Kade Writer in Residence in the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic+ this fall. A member of amnesty international, PEN Germany and PEN Berlin, she is also actively engaged in the Berlin-based refugee support group Wir machen das. Jetzt (We are doing it. Now), and in the sub-group Weiterschreiben. Jetzt (Write On. Now), a project assisting asylum-seeking authors all over Germany. During the lecture, Dückers introduced the audience to Ukrainian writers who found refuge in Germany, and others who either cannot leave the country because they are men between 18 and 59 and therefore need to be prepared to serve in the army or decided to stay in their country despite the Russian invasion in February 2022.
In her vivid report, Dückers shared the heartache of those who left their homes and now worry about their family members who had to stay behind, or who are serving in the Ukrainian army defending their country. Writers and artists who speak German and/or English have found work for example at the famous Literaturarchiv in Marbach, or at the Gorki Theater in Berlin. Natalka Snjadanko and her children, for example, live in Marbach now. Oksana Stomina, another writer Dückers introduced and who had remained in Ukraine to support fellow Ukrainians who had lost their homes for much longer, literally escaped hours before her home as well as the nearby shelter she was working at were bombed – an escape that can only be described as venturesome at best, given that she and her family members had to drive through minefields watching other cars explode and through Russian checkpoints that presented particular dangers to the women trying to escape. One of the writers with whom Dückers stayed in touch, who could not leave the Ukraine because of their gender and age, garners the experiences of refugees from Eastern Ukraine who arrive at the train station in his hometown Lwiw. He compiled a “Dictionary of War” from which Tanja Dückers read a few entries, for example about a woman hiding in her bathtub during a bomb attack – the bathtub saved her life – or about two elderly neighbors sitting on a bench in front of their destroyed house, but then killed by shrapnel. Dückers quoted Dr. Jurko Prochasko, a famous literary scholar, translator, cultural mediator and psychoanalyst from Lwiw, who calls the Russian approach to Ukrainian culture and language which considers the latter an inferior “little brother” a “colonial style approach.” Prochasko on the other hand emphasizes differences and specifics in the literary tradition of the Ukraine with regards to topics and styles.
In addition to these individual stories and contemplations, Dückers also highlighted the numerous historical sites that have been bombed since the beginning of the war. By the beginning of July 2022, nearly 400 cultural facilities such as museums, theatres, libraries, famous historical buildings, and monuments have already been destroyed. Russian soldiers have been looting artworks, in Dückers’ words “the wartime practice of destruction” which aims to erase the collective memory of Ukrainian culture.
For more information about Tanja Dückers and her work as a writer and an activist visit her webpage (www.tanjadueckers.de).