Here and there. From the world (still) at peace to the world at war. From our screens, our streets, our cafés, our subways, to their alerts, their fleeing, their shelters, their deaths. From our first flowering shrub to their snow, their mud, their terror and their resistance. Between Paris and Kiev, this European capital three hours away by plane, a chasm has opened up. We watch, stunned, as the missiles smash a beautiful and great city, filled with the sounds of life so short a time ago, night years away. Kiev. I was walking along its immense boulevards in January. Kreshatyk Avenue leading to the Maidan, the old streets of the Podol district tumbling down to the Dnieper.
I was taking part in a so-called remembrance trip: a European Jewish delegation was coming to visit the site of Babi Yar, where the Nazis massacred 33,711 Jews on 29 and 30 September 1941.
And now I see: on this 1st of March, as I write these lines, which will inevitably be overtaken by new pains, new horrors, by the time they are published, Putin’s bombers are pulverising the television tower and, at the same time, a part of the Babi Yar memorial.
I see our procession again. And the young Ukrainian filming our silence as well as the speeches of the participants, political and religious, from Brussels, London, Paris, Bucharest and Berlin. He wants to work for his city and his country, he tells me. Relentlessly. The borders were already tightening, but we didn’t want to believe it. Neither did Boris. He is a 24-year-old Ukrainian Jew who has pieced together his family’s history in this land of blood. He looks for traces under the snow. In this country, everyone has rebuilt themselves on nightmares. That of the Shoah. That of the extermination by hunger decided by Stalin in 1932 and 1933 to liquidate the Ukrainian peasantry. 5 million dead. Tamara, at whose house I had dinner the night before, told me about her grandmother who lived through the period and took in the starving.
Où est-elle aujourd’hui, Tamara ?
There are days with or without Whatsapp messages since the 24 February invasion of Ukraine, which will remain in my memory the darkest day since 20 March 2003, when Iraq was invaded.
Kiev. Baghdad. In both cases, I saw and loved cities and people soon to be condemned to hell. In the heart of the East. In the heart of the West. Yesterday, my friends the artists of Karrada, the dreamers of Basra. Today, Tamara from Obolon, the first bombed-out district north of Kiev. Today, Boris, my young cameraman at the Babi Yar ceremony.
He is a Ukrainian patriot. Like the president, Volodymyr Zelensky, whose fate no one can predict, but who decides, in a flash of fate, to confront barbarism. “I need weapons, not a taxi”, Zelensky replied to the Americans who offered to exfiltrate him on the first night of the invasion. It is repeated over and over again that the ex-comedian has gone from laughter to tears, from buffoonery to tragedy. In reality, he has all the faces of humanity. He is a funny guy who is happy to be alive and whose love for his country turns him into a resister. There are hundreds of thousands of them there now. And now others will join them, from neighbouring countries. The European Union, awakened by a start, is no longer afraid to displease its own opinions. It sanctions, it excludes, it isolates the sower of death. The enormous emotion of the famous public opinions – neither cowardly, nor lethargic, nor only preoccupied with the price of petrol and pasta – has indeed pushed the European leaders to act, as much as the nuclear threats of the master of the Kremlin. The Union is arming the bloody Ukraine, whose misfortune and strength it had underestimated.
There are days with or without what’s app messages between Paris and Kiev. Boris is somewhere in a small town along a dangerous road. Where the endless column of tanks will be coming? Food is running out. Just one sentence last night: “I’m fine but I’m a bit hungry.” Are Putin’s Stalinist troops going to start starving the Ukrainians again? Piling up dead bodies on top of the dead of Babi Yar in their wild ride? To multiply the crimes committed in the name of the “denazification” of a country whose Jewish president they want to liquidate? We are going back in time, this Orwellian time of the assassins.