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From Home to Home

by Olha K.

Chapter 1

My father had to come from his country house to take me and Di to the dentist. Who knew you could spend a fortune on a baby tooth? The appointment was at 10 am so he was to pick us up around 9.

The phone is ringing. That’s not the sound of the alarm. Dad is calling. What time is it? 5:30am. I knew he was an early bird, but5:30 is too early even for him. Something might have happened. Maybe the car has broken down or he doesn’t feel well.

- Hi Dad, how are you?

- Doniu, * the war has started.

- What war? Where? In Donetsk?

- No hun, in Kyiv. Russians are bombing Kyiv. Can’t you hear?

Now I clearly hear explosions somewhere nearby and on the phone at my father’s end.

- Stay there, please!

- No, I’m going to come back. Pack the documents. Be prepared.

- I’m a scout, tatu*. I’m always prepared.

I put the phone down, took my daughter out of bed and put her between me and my husband. It wasn’t the time for her to wake up. I wanted to prolong her peaceful childhood. Because I knew the minute she woke, it would be destroyed. I’m trembling and trying to put my thoughts together.

- Nick, wake up. The war has started.

- What war? Where? In Donetsk?

- No hun, in Kyiv. Russians are bombing Kyiv. Can’t you hear?

*Doniu (from Ukrainian donya - daughter)

*Tatu (from Ukrainian tato - father)

Chapter 2 Oats, biscuits, dozens of chocolates, some sausages, bread, a thermos of boiled water, a couple of boiled eggs, purée, and a couple of small juices for my daughter, tea bags and sugar cubes. The road that usually takes five hours is going to take at least three days. With the petrol shortages and air alarms it’s impossible to predict when and where you are going to eat next. I’m a scout. I need to be prepared. I’m a mom, I need to be doubly prepared. I’m packing food into several backpacks, so if we get split up, everyone will have something to eat. It’s the twelfth day of war already, but my emotions are still stuck in my stomach so I can’t put anything inside me. Only sweet tea with lemon. Lots of sweet tea with small pieces of lemon, because lemons are as precious as gold now. We are passing lots of checkpoints with armed men. It’s frosty and everything is covered with snow. It’s the 8th of March – International Women’s Day, a holiday. At some checkpoints men havedrawnadaisyandwrittendown,“Ladies,ourcongratulations.” I open the window on Diana’s side, and she gives chocolate to a severe-looking bearded man holding a machine gun, who has been checking our documents. - Please, take it. - Oh, sunny, keep it. - We have plenty of them. Please, take one. You need energy. He takes it and a shadow of a smile appears for a second on his tired face. - Take care of yourself, girls. - And you, please. We are going farther. I used to love chocolate. A lot. But on this trip, I can’t eat a bite. I’m keeping it for those severe-looking men with machine guns, who are standing at the most distant checkpoints. For men who have had no rest since the 24th of February. For those who are holding our sky on their shoulders. A bite of chocolate, a small piece of warmth, care, and hope. I hope to see them again on my way back.

Chapter 3 I’ve never been to Slovakia. I never thought I’d come here as a refugee. I hugged my husband, took my suitcase, my backpack and my daughter and crossed the border between Ukraine and Slovakia on foot. I swear at that exact moment I felt the string between us break. I went into my future, and he stayed behind in my past. - What is your final destination? – a customs officer asked. - Ireland. - Are you sure? - I am. I’ve got tickets for this evening’s flight. - I mean, do you know someone there? It’s far. - I lived there for two years. Our friends are waiting for us. - Good. Any alcohol or cigarettes? - No, I’m escaping from the war, not going on vacation. - I had to ask. - Sorry. You are right. Job should be done properly. Red Cross volunteers met us on the other side. They made me tea, gave chocolate to Di, and explained the next steps. A minibus took us to Ubl’a, a small village not far from the border. The place which looked like a village concert hall, was now a refugee camp with information tents outside. Somebody took my bags, gave me a pack with sandwiches, bananas, juices, and snacks. Some other person gave me the number of a bed where we could wait and showed us around. I don’t remember the faces and didn’t ask their names. My feelings turned over like a mosaic in a kaleidoscope. A deep strange feeling that we were refugees now. In a moment transformed from being a person with a career, property, family and plans to being a lost desperate immigrant with a foggy future.

I wanted to cry. Since February 24th I had a huge desire to lie down on the floor and cry out loud. Today is the 16th of March. All my tears are stuck somewhere inside. Not even a drop escapes.

Chapter 4 The war showed us things don’t matter, only people. You can disagree and I will accept your truth. Because they matter. Some of my friends are missing their printed family photos. Anastasiya is missing her books, my little princess is missing her collection of panda bears (only I’m happy all those fluffy monsters are now far away). There’s one thing I put in my suitcase leaving my cosy apartment at the beginning of March. Don’t think I’m crazy, but it’s a Dyson hairdryer. I got it two years ago as a birthday present from my now ex-husband here in Dublin. It was an important decision for me to put it on my wish list because a hairdryer can’t cost 400 euro, it just can’t! For me to get this beautiful, shiny, pink, graphite but mind- blowingly priced hairdryer was more about allowing myself things that I want, not need. Things I deserve. Just to allow myself some luxury. Of course, I took it to Ukraine when we decided to move home eight months before the war started. I knew the plugs in Ireland and Ukraine are different, I knew it was just a hairdryer, but I took it with me. Do you know that not taking care of your hair is one of the signs of a mental disorder? A person can be so stressed or depressed they don’t care about their appearance. So, when I had to pack my whole life into one suitcase I took it again, as a symbol that I’m not a refugee or a vagabond. I’m not a tramp. That my life is not crushed into small pieces. That I’m just on a very long pause in my life. That I’m still the girl who gets up in the morning, washes her hair, blow dries it with a Dyson and lives her life with her head held high.

Chapter 5 I woke up in the same apartment in Dublin I’d lived in two and a half years ago. It’s such a strange feeling to be back home in a place that has never actually been your home. It was St. Patrick’s Day. My first real St. Patrick’s Day after two years of Covid lockdowns. Everything looked so familiar, but did I really know this city? I came here in 2019 and wasn’t in a hurry to get to know it because, “There’s no rush. We’ve plenty of time.” And then Covid shut everything down and imprisoned us in a 5km radius. Later we decided to come back to Ukraine, and then... I was dreaming of getting back to Dublin. I can’t explain this feeling of being at home in a place I barely knew but fell in love with at my first breath on the steps of the plane. I’m drinking my morning tea and staring out the windows on the twelfth floor. Here’s Howth, I can see the sea, the Spire, the Phoenix Park, the Dublin mountains. I’m looking at this scenery which I’ve seen so many times before and can’t believe I’m back. Who could predict that war would make dreams come true? Everything is so brightly green and blue, people are laughing, the sky is clear and safe. - Mom, is that helicopter good? - Yes, my love. It’s a good helicopter. It’s protecting us. - They check the fire alarm every Thursday - my friend tells me, so I won’t be scared when I hear it. We are putting on green clothes and going to the city centre to watch the parade. First St. Patrick’s Day parade of my life. I’m rediscovering the city I used to know. Ukrainian flags fly everywhere. I’m holding back tears. I don’t like crowds, but today the crowd is a safe place. It’s an unusual feeling when being in a crowd on the streets means not to be afraid of bombs and tanks. Diana is covering her ears; the drums are too loud for her. They’re too loud for everyone who has spent three weeks trying to keep quiet, whispering instead of talking, laughing, by candlelight instead of electric light. I’m hugging her. Tomorrow she will see her best friends from childcare. Tomorrow there will be lots of loud talking, screaming, and laughing. There’s nothing to be afraid of. The sky is safe and clear. I’m taking a deep breath of the spring Dublin air. I’m home. In a place I’ve never truly known. Hi Dublin! Let’s get acquainted.


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