When I am in Luxembourg, Ukraine seems far away. At the same time, we have become accustomed to the war, like to a new reality that will stay with us for longer. People don’t talk much about it anymore. As if they ever talked about it much in Luxembourg.
I live next to the Russian embassy, a huge campus with several buildings, surrounded by high walls, electric fence and tight security. A road boundary stone painted in blue and yellow at a bend nearby was covered over with a red Z. On public transport or in the streets, I hear people speaking Russian – or is it Ukrainian? Not sure. I think – or rather: hope! – that some of the Russians who live here are against Putin’s war. There are moments when I feel like asking them. But I don’t.
On a hot afternoon in Dommeldange, I walk past a playground. Suddenly, a boy comes running towards me and asks me in French if I want to play basketball with him. I am surprised, this is something that has never happened to me. I am older and don’t look very sporty. After a moment of hesitation, I agree.
“Do you want to play on a team with my friend?” he asks. “Whatever”, I laugh, “just tell me what to do.” We play and shoot a few baskets. It’s fun. The two of them don’t speak French to each other. “Where are you from?” I ask. “Ukraine!” Oh, I’ll switch to Polish then. I don’t speak Ukrainian though I started to learn it after the war broke out, but it interfered with Polish which I wanted to get ready for the language-adding exam at my workplace.
I switch to Polish and they understand me well. Their names are Bogdan and Dani, they are thirteen and they are from Kiev and Mikolayev. In March 2022, two weeks after Putin’s full-scale invasion, they fled with their families. I tell them that I visited Kiev and Chernobyl with my sons two years ago. Now it’s their turn to be surprised. “Really?” I show them the pictures on my mobile phone.
Putin’s war turned these boys’ lives upside down from one day to the next. Perhaps they were lucky to be taken in by Luxembourg; they learned French and maybe German or Luxembourgish, and got to know a rich Western European country. When they return to Ukraine, Europe and the EU will be familiar to them.
I wish them well and walk on, into a forest grove from where I can see the playground. They don’t ask anyone else to play. Why did they ask me? Some say there are no coincidences. I could have been a local Russian and a Putin supporter. But I think it was a coincidence. A nice one.