Blog Ukraine: A Requiem for those that couldn’t be buried…

March 28, 2022

Day 33 of the war

Vienna hosts an OSCE Human Dimension meeting, which the Russian representative refuses to attend for not having been involved in the preparations, and which covers in contrast all the spectrum from the [theoretical] way things ‘should be’ according to international humanitarian/human rights law and the [real] way things are in Mariupol, where those fleeing the incessant shelling try not to look at the corpses lying around on the streets, because even if they would recognise a relative, they wouldn’t be able to halt and bury them. I am attending the meeting on behalf of #PAX and have something to say about the hard work required for peace. 

“I don’t see any signs of solidarity with Ukraine in the streets,” says colleague Yulia Erner, while we walk from one meeting location to the other. Vienna isn’t full of Ukrainian flags, Vienna is full of imperial splendour it doesn’t even seem ashamed of. But in strategic places, the flags are there. Like on the half-circular wall behind the Monument in Honor of the Soldiers of the Soviet Army, with its inscriptions in communist-imperialist Russian, which is fully painted blue-and-yellow. When I enter the hall of the central railway station, the first thing I hear is “шановнипасажири!” – an announcement in clear, accent-less Ukrainian, and for a moment it seems I am there again. Then I realise that it is the other way ’round: not I have come to Ukraine, but Ukraine has come to Europe: its people, its language, its stories; its humour, helpfulness and creativity. Ukraine is no longer what it has been for many of my fellow Europeans: a faraway land that doesn’t really have meaning in their daily life. It is right here, right now. Ukraine hasn’t become part of the EU yet, but Ukrainians have already become part of daily life in many EU countries.

I walk around town, my eyes wide open, unable to take photos for quite a while as my phone is out of battery. The Karlskirche announces a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. I love that piece. It is today. I am going. All the more as it is a charity concert donating all proceedings for Ukraine. The building is lit in blue and yellow, both inside and out. Two priests speak: one Austrian, one Ukrainian. Then the music starts. I know this Requiem well, but as the first tones fill the church I am startled and touched to hear something even more familiar: the Ukrainian national anthem. Another piece of Ukraine that has come to Europe over the past weeks – and as one person, the public in the church rises, listens standing, while those who know the words solemnly sing along.

And there is the Requiem, its accords rolling from the dome in waves, from the thundering ‘dies irae’ to the soft-sad ‘lacrimosa’ which indeed brings tears to my eyes. ‘Dona eis requiem,’ pleads the choir, ‘give him rest’. And in my mind I am taking this music to the shelters of Mariupol, to the streets of Kharkiv, to all those who died and couldn’t be buried the way their loved ones ‘d have wanted to, with solemn speech and song, with love, care and attention. The choir sings a mass for innocent civilians killed in this senseless war, and it hurts. I am, in the midst of all this, appreciative that the Ukrainians do not have to bear that hurt all by themselves, that part of this, too, can be taken to Europe. 



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