Ukraine is a rich country

Guest Comment: I will stay in Ukraine

A great deal of freedom has now begun for us Ukrainians. If we want to travel to the European Union, which millions of our citizens already do every year, we no longer have to pilgrimage hundreds of kilometers to a consulate and endure degrading procedures and fees. EU citizens have had free entry with us for a long time; now we can finally enjoy visa-free travel.

Our “Euromaidan”, our protests, our struggle for more rule of law, transparency and democracy all contributed to this. I was born in 1991, as old as the independent Ukraine, and like many friends and colleagues I have had an important experience: people can change things. We fought for closer ties to the EU; this fight cost some people their lives, but we can see that there are initial successes.

But with the new freedom I also ask new important questions. Every time I have been to the EU so far, every time I lay in one of those soft western feather beds, I felt: How good it is to be there. To feel, to see, to touch a new texture of life. To see yourself from the outside, to let in the soft light of another culture. Like trying on a new dress in the store. Take your measurements and turn back and forth in front of the mirror. Like seeing yourself in a new way: is that really me?

And then return home. I don't know, maybe I have a crack, but I almost always want to go home. Happy and unhappy at the same time is this generation that lives constantly on the border: on the border with emigration. Emigration: how graceful that sounds. Our country is at war, and the light of a better, orderly life and the hoped-for reforms only shine from afar. Many Ukrainians are now considering whether to emigrate. My friends abroad keep saying that when we talk about our country, we have something that keeps them coming back to us. “That incredible spirit,” they say over a bottle of beer. Ghost? Beer spirit? Alcohol? Or is it just a tentative breath? But, by and large, I understand what they mean. They mean what the world likes to call "the Slavic soul".

That's how people are with us. You are the first and last reason for me to stay in Ukraine. In a different sense than for those who come to us to go hiking or to spend money (not to speak of sex tourism). They sometimes experience their exotic adventure in our country; we, on the other hand, have the most authentic way of feeling oneself. Sometimes it is said that the eyes in Ukraine shine differently. Yes, it has to do with our "heart". With the radicalism of our decisions and actions. With the willingness to give everything down to the last shirt, but also: to grab everything down to the last thread. The Austrian writers and reporters Martin Pollack and Karl-Markus Gauß titled their book about Galicia “The rich land of the poor people”. A fitting name. But I would describe Ukraine differently: as a “poor country of rich people”. Because they are rich, in a non-material sense.

This is how our destiny pulsates. It consists of stories in which "flowers bloom on dung and manure", as it is called in a poem by Hryhorij Semchuk. So am I going to leave? Of course I will travel! Only the time and money for the ticket have to be found. But I will always return. I firmly promised myself that.

The author (26) was in Germany on a scholarship. She is a journalist and editor at the Choven book publisher in Lviv. Translated from the Ukrainian by Gerhard Gnauck.