I worked in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, for four years — from 2003 to 2007 — as a teacher of Arabic language and literature at the National University of Kyiv.
It is one of the most prestigious European universities and was founded about 200 years ago. I can testify that the majority of Ukrainians are the kindest people I have ever lived and dealt with.
Their passion for Egypt and the Arab and Islamic culture was incredible. I never sensed any sort of racism in the way they dealt with strangers. I can testify that the vast majority of Ukrainians speak Russian, and they stopped using it only after the Russian occupation in 2014, and that is when they started speaking Ukrainian as a way of resisting the occupation.
I was eager to go to the Ukrainian countryside to live with the people there and closely learn about their customs and traditions. In fact, it was my friend, the late poet Fathy Abdullah, who had advised me to do this.
I talked with one of my distinguished students about this wish of mine and he told me that he lives in a village in western Ukraine and offered that I stay there, where he was living with his parents!
He took me on the weekend to his family’s modest house and I stayed with them for two days, two days I’ll remember for as long as I live.
I was astonished by the generosity of the family, even though they were rather poor. I was captivated by their nobility and kindness. They treated me as one of them. I did not, for a second, feel like I was a stranger.
This is why I was deeply upset by what Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov said today, claiming that one of the goals of the invasion of Ukraine is to eradicate Nazism there!
I suppose the idiom that says: “If you have no shame, do whatever you wish,” holds some measure of truth to it.
Mahmoud Al-Qeay: Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ahram