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Love You Through the War and Back

by Anna K.


Written based on my grandmother’s memories.

1945, Elena Krys It was frightening. We’d nowhere to go; we fell asleep in our beds to the eerie buzzing of fighter planes overhead. A scary lullaby. Somewhere houses were exploding. Somewhere screams were heard. But our house at 12 Konnaya Street, in Odesa, survived. In the morning, we walked amongst the corpses to look for our relatives. Deep in our hearts, we were glad we didn’t find them. When I was fifteen years old, my father disappeared. He didn’t come back from the war. We found out he was killed defending our Motherland. On April 10th, Odesa was saved. May 9th, Victory Day. We were saved. We can go to the sea again, dance, laugh, and not be afraid to die from the scary screeching night-time killer planes. I walked home. I looked up at the sky through the chestnuts, at the eagle flaunting over our house, and at the bright rays of sunlight. Why them? I opened the door. I cried for the first time in a long time. He was standing with his back to me. Handsome, manly, in a suit. Alive. - Lenochka, I love you very much. Marry me. I spent three days on the open sea after a shipwreck without food and water, and the only thing that helped me to survive was knowing I would see you again.

Nowadays It’s 2023; the eagle is still flaunting, and I, like my grandmother, love chestnuts. Oh, my dear grandparents, if you only knew who would attack us this time and that I would have to face the war as you did. On February 24th, 2022, the war began. Grandma’s stories came alive. They became our reality. Terrible. Reality. On February 20th, my partner Pavlo and I left for the United States. No, we didn’t run away. At first, the plan was to take the bar exam in New York, which happens twice a year. And then a dream trip to Chicago, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, then to see my family in Miami. The day before the flight, I was nervous. I had a crushing feeling that I wasn’t coming back anytime soon. My hands were shaking, and I couldn’t pack. My intuition didn’t let me down. Clutching the keys in my hands, I got into a cab. Airport. Kyiv-Istanbul-New York. We woke up at 3 am, not because of an alarm clock, but because of the call of my heart. “Anechka, we are with you” and “We support you” – these were the messages I saw, and I didn’t understand. War. Because of the time difference, the whole world on the other side of the ocean already knew. Our families and friends woke up to explosions. Just yesterday, we were discussing how to brew matcha latte properly, and today Molotov cocktails were on the agenda. That morning we flew to Chicago. The longest two and a half hours. Our most expensive SIM card for internet use turned out to be useless. On the plane, they already knew that Russia, like Nazi Germany during World War II, attacked us at 5 am. I explained that I needed to be in touch with my mother and found a way to connect to the Internet. Everything inside me shrank and didn’t unclench for the next ten days. We couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. Checked the news every minute. On the first day, there was a loss. At that moment, I was texting Andrii, my colleague, “I’m so scared for everyone. I’ve never had that feeling.” And this Hutsul guy, brave as he was, conveyed his confidence to me, “We’ll make it. The truth and God are with us.” And my soul felt every word. By this point, the Armed Forces of Ukraine also showed their power. “Coordination” chats began to appear in different cities. The first few days, I checked the situation every five minutes. I was frantically watching every message in Odesa, thinking to myself, how come my loved ones were hiding in bomb shelters while I was on another continent? My family in Miami gave us support and love. Slowly our appetites returned, especially after my dear aunt Svetlana prepared borsch.

After doing a SWOT analysis, we decided to fly to Dublin. I love this city with all my heart, as I lived here from 2015 to 2019. Dublin is like a long-time friend, who wraps his arms around me. We hoped that within two weeks everything would be resolved, and we could go home. A few weeks later it became clear that the war would not end quickly. Realisation of this made me cry for the first time since the invasion began. At that moment my friend Liz McCarthy called me and invited us to my beloved Killorglin in Co. Kerry. The McCarthy family warmed us with their care, and the recognition came that from now on, we would be living in two countries. I didn’t return home until nine months later on the Dublin- Chisinau plane, transferring to Odesa. My hometown, my favourite city, my soul. How many people Odesa sheltered, for thousands of Ukrainians Odesa opened its doors and became a second home. Looking bravely into the eyes of war, Odesans continue to smile and live. The long-awaited meeting with my family, my mother Tetyana, nephew Ihor, grandmother Galyna, and godmother Tetyana. Immediately we went on a date to the sea. How I’d missed it - this smell, the noise of waves, and the feeling of freedom which I experience only at home. Then a train to Kyiv. Nightly soulful conversations with an unfamiliar fellow traveller on a wartime trip. She was a wonderful woman who hadn’t seen her daughter in four years because of Covid and then the war. “I’m afraid I won’t recognize her when I see her anymore, she’ll be a complete stranger,” she said quietly with tears in her eyes and added, “I never thought there’d be a war in my lifetime, and that Russian soldiers would attack us.” In the meantime, the train was doing its thing, taking us to the capital, which remained unconquered. Trying to find hand cream, the keys happened to fall into my hand. I squeezed them tightly and held them to my heart. They were with me the whole time, having travelled halfway around the world and back. Finally, I would use them, and it was as if they knew it.

Military Kyiv – a courageous, tired, brave city. I stepped onto the platform, which was so familiar to me from my student years. The first time I was here, when I was ten years old, was with my father. It was raining. What a beautiful train station! Oh, Dad, I miss you so much. But I’m happy you don’t have to face this brutal war. And here I was again in Instytutska, near our house. The street was unrecognisable. No squirrels were jumping, and there was a huge checkpoint, a lot of soldiers and a lot of equipment. I ran upstairs. The key was in the deadbolt, and the door opened. The apartment still had our scent. A time capsule exists – it’s worth going back to my apartment in wartime. We were only going for two weeks, with two suitcases. It was already November but still February in my heart. On the table, there were invitations for wine tasting on March 8th, two cups from which we hastily drank water that morning, and Christmas garlands that we did not want to take off before our trip in February. The rocket attacks began, and the sirens were blaring. But I had no time to go to the bomb shelter, as I had to pack all our things and vacate the apartment. Pack my whole life back into suitcases and boxes and move. I’d done that before when I left Odesa for Dublin in 2015, then Dublin for Kyiv. But those were my decisions. This time I was forced by war. For the last time, I lay down on my favourite couch in the living room. The wind blew in from the balcony, and the curtains rippled. Goodbye, our nest in which we were so happy. It was hard for the keys to part with me, too. I held them in my hands to give to the owner of the apartment, but they quietly rolled away under the couch in the living room. I wasn’t the one who closed the door. But I’m the one who will open the next one. This is my way. And I’m brave enough to look into its eyes.

On 15th November 2022, I returned from Kyiv to Odesa. On that day there was a massive missile attack across Ukraine. It is a strange feeling to hear sirens instead of birdsong, to know that hundreds of missiles have been fired at your country, but not yet to understand in which direction, at which cities. How much danger there is in the location where you are now. At that moment I was on Derybasivska Street. I looked around at all the statues in protective covers, and the street musicians kept playing, ignoring the sirens. Blackouts began in Odesa. We had no electricity for three days. And later, when I went to Dublin, water cuts started. What do people feel facing all these challenges hour after hour, day by day? They are tired, exhausted, but ready to show what the Ukrainian spirit and resistance is all about. To observe it, read the Telegram messages from my godmother Tetyana Simak, a dear friend of my beloved father Sergey who died in 2004.

23.11.2022, 18:38 All of Odesa and the region are without light and water. We are like a dark spot on the map of the world... The anger is unbearable. Tomorrow if the situation does not change, we’ll have to look for water. And what to do with the refrigerator is a big question... That’s what I told you about our news. You left just in time. We don’t have electric transportation either. I think a solution will be worked on and the situation will improve. So be it.

25.11.2022, 14:03 Good day. We are living on a powder keg – once again, the light is out, and communication is lame. For the third day, it is raining heavily. And all together brings gloom and hopelessness. Tiredness. And I want to live and to create. To rejoice. And no matter what, I believe in a good future. We love you. Hugs.

05.12. 20:09 Hello my family. We are in a nightmare again. They shelled us today. The result - no light and water for almost the whole day. It’s eight o’clock in the evening, and there is no indication of what will happen or when. There is no communication or Internet either. I will send a message and do not know when you get it. There’s no way to get information. It’s a good thing you’re not going through all this horror. At least you can be safe. If it keeps going like this, we should think about a fireplace or a mini power plant. Now the truth is people have decided to make a lot of money on this because the prices skyrocketed. They have created a shortage. I marvel at human greed. Sad. It’s disgusting. It’s a shame to give you such sad news. I wish I could give you some good news.

22.12. 00:19 Good evening Annushka. It’s the second day they have tried to turn off the power on schedule. There are some failures, but at least we can expect the light to appear. At the same time, the water situation is normalised. But before these days, there were very long blackouts, for twenty-four hours. The refrigerator couldn’t take it, and some of the food had to be thrown out. Now it is a little warmer outside, and before that, there were frosts. As you understand, it was cold in the apartment without lights. I want to believe that every day the situation will improve. Are you getting ready for the holidays? May you be well and happy. My heart is with brave people of this world who are fighting for their freedom. Let us be.


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