Steadfast Solidarity

What Kind of Support Is and Isn’t Helpful to Your Ukrainian Friends

Written by volunteers at SonnenBlau (grassroots volunteer group)

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Germany has shown massive solidarity with Ukraine. The protest in Berlin on February 27 is a great example of the tremendous support each Ukrainian felt.

Hundreds of thousands protestors gather in Berlin on Feb. 27 to protest the ongoing war in Ukraine. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Since then, thousands of Germans have donated supplies, opened their homes to people fleeing Ukraine and donated their time and money to help people in the war zones.

However, the last week has left many Ukrainians who reside in Germany feeling misunderstood, marginalised and disappointed. And that is something that should not be. Especially now, at a time when their fragility and rawness of trauma are dire and the war in Ukraine continues to rage on.

Ukraine and its people are victims of a war waged by Russia and executed by Russian soldiers. All over Germany, there are many events that call for peace and an end to the war. Some of these events though, focus their calls on the fraternisation of Ukrainians and Russians, thereby portraying Russians and Ukrainians as equal victims of war, and producing self-centered peace symbolism. These events in no way manifest solidarity, understanding and support for the real victims. To the Ukrainians, the execution of these events shows a profound lack of understanding. They create a dispersion of focus, diluting the significance of Ukrainians as victims of aggression and facilitating the prevention of defensive actions necessary to the survival of Ukraine and its people.

What marginalises the war in Ukraine and why?

A sad example of such misleading framing and execution was the “Sound of Peace” concert. On March 20, the Brandenburg Gate became a wall between a Ukrainian protest organised by Vitsche Berlin (a Ukrainian organisation in Berlin), and the ongoing “Sound of Peace” concert.

Ukrainian speakers were given minimal speaking time and Ukrainian performers were explicitly forbidden to make any calls for action in support of Ukraine, such as the one about the “closure of Ukrainian sky”. This is the most important plea Ukraine and its people make right now. It was seen as a threat to the peaceful agenda of the event.

Being an ally presupposes listening to the voices, perspectives, opinions and needs of the people you want to help. The same applies to the allies helping the Ukrainian victims of war. Any action that does not include listening to the needs of victims translates to the marginalisation and gaslighting of these irrespective of how many “peace” and dove signs one puts into their design. Calling for peace in the world (as done by the organisers in their editorial) and forbidding victims of these wars to state their needs is an instrumentalization of victims in one’s personal pursuit of positive socio-political framing. Hence, a clear communication strategy with an emphasis on “help for the victims” and “action against aggressors” is of utmost importance.

In the speeches held during the event, German celebrities talked of Russians who are unknowing and unwilling victims of “Putin’s war” and who do not see what is happening with their Ukrainian brothers and sisters. The speakers called for helping Russians to help themselves. Moreover, the event ended with two children each of whom had a Russian and a Ukrainian flag respectively and rang the organisers’ “bell of peace”.

All of that was happening while there were Ukrainian people and voices literally a few meters apart. They were crying for protection and intervention so that they may see their families alive, return to their homes in Ukraine, start processing their trauma the way they need it.

Any current call for Ukrainians to reconcile with Russia(ns) is gravely inappropriate! Ukraine is invaded by Russia. Ukrainians are being raped by Russian soldiers and families are being shelled by Russian artillery. Every Ukrainian will have their individual fight with processing that. A call for victim’s and rapist’s reconciliation and a friendly hug to abolish the drama and “negative energy” is the epitome of ignorance and entitlement. Please, do not give advice on how Ukrainians should act when they are the ones facing brutality. Many Ukrainians have families in Russia and will decide when to call them “brothers and sisters”.

To be able to embrace anyone in the future, Ukrainians first have to survive the present and keep their statehood.

How to get a clear focus in the context of support manifestation for Ukraine?

When wanting to be in support of Ukrainians and wanting to help them survive, always make sure that Ukrainian voices and demands are not silenced through your ways of support. No one can tell you what hunger is, other than the person who is hungry. No one’s perspective on needed help is better than that of the person who woke up from the bomb explosion or who spoke on the phone with their family and heard the sound of a rocket crossing the sky followed by “we love you very much, goodbye”.

You want to help publicly? Then call for action and share Ukrainian-voiced opinions. As much as throwing flowers at tanks might look pretty and romantic in photos, it has nothing to do with actual help. You want to attend a German-Russian concert? Go for it. Just, please, be aware of its context and messages. In a worst case scenario, you can end up as Putin’s “useful idiot”, a compliant spectator of human despair and suffering. Which is a pathetic destiny. When there are Ukrainian children killed by Russia(ns), speak against the murderer and protect the children that are still alive.

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SonnenBlau

SonnenBlau

SonnenBlau is a small, grassroots volunteer organization that provides ambulance teams in Kyiv with much needed medical supplies.