These days, Heinz Otto Fausten, a 94-year-old retired high school principal from Sinzig, Germany, can’t bear to watch the news about Ukraine. Whenever he sees images of tanks on TV, he grabs the remote and switches channels. “I don’t want to be subjected to these images,” he says. “I can’t bear it.”
When he was deployed as a soldier in the Ukraine, in 1943, Fausten was struck by grenade shrapnel in the hollow of his knee, just outside Kiev, and lost his right leg. The German presence in Ukraine at the time was, of course, part of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. But, even so, Fausten didn’t think he would ever again witness scenes from Ukraine hinting at the potential outbreak of war.
Friday’s events demonstrated just how quickly a country can be pulled into this conflict. That’s when pro-Russian separatists seized control of a bus carrying military observers with the Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and detained the officials. As of Tuesday, seven observers were still in detention, including four Germans — three members of the Bundeswehr armed forces and one interpreter.
The same day, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the de facto mayor of Slavyansk, told the Interfax news agency that no talks would be held on the detained observers, whom he has referred to as “prisoners of war,” if sanctions against rebel leaders remain in place. On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, condemned the detentions, describing them as “against the law and without justification.” He called for the detainees to be released, “immediately, unconditionally and unharmed.” German officials have also asked the Russian government “to act publicly and internally for their release.”
The irony that these developments and this new threat of war comes in 2014 — the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I and the 75th of the start of World War II — has not been lost on anyone. For years, a thinking had prevailed on the Continent that Europe had liberated itself from the burdens of its history and that it had become a global role model with its politics of reconciliation. But the Ukraine crisis demonstrates that this is no longer the case…