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Meeting the War

by Katya H.


If I could write myself a letter from the future and warn of war, I’d never name a month or a year. Nobody would believe me, and I’d be deprived of the air of freedom in Kyiv. I’d say that one day a very beautiful autumn will come, and it will be the last peaceful one before the war. So, I would not miss a single one, I’d never complain about bad weather, and would call my friends more often for a walk. Deep in my heart, I still wouldn’t believe in war. Just as many did not believe in it, despite the warnings. In the fall of 2021, my teenage son wrote me a message. “Mom, there will be a big war.” When the topic is difficult, he writes to me, and does not talk, although I am in the next room. “Why do you think that?” I asked. “The Russians have gathered troops on the border,” he replied, and attached a link from Tik-Tok. I knocked on his door with an iron argument — a year earlier, Russian troops had already accumulated on our borders, and nothing happened. Why does something have to happen this time? I showed him the link to last year’s news. A month later, he wrote to me again. “What will we do if the war starts?” In January 2022, I met a friend for coffee to discuss our projects as we had big plans. We involuntarily touched on the topic of war warnings. My friend shared that in a chat at her house, neighbours were discussing a plan of action. “Can you imagine?” she asked me. “I can’t imagine. Apparently, these people are sure there will be a war. But military experts deny this...” I constantly clung to some kind of hope. “You know, sometimes I think maybe it’s not with my neighbours, but something is wrong with us... It is said that when water with a frog in it is heated gradually, it does not feel the moment when it has boiled,” said my friend, and we fell silent. It is difficult to admit that I am such a frog, but it turned out that way.

On February 15th, 2022, we check if all electrical appliances and the water are turned off, if the plants are watered. I close the doors of our apartment in Kyiv so that I can go on an unplanned vacation with my family and animals. Until now, we have not returned from this “vacation”. My husband convinced me to leave to the west of Ukraine when the war warnings reached breaking point. Our first week in a house outside the city resembled a vacation, we went into nature a lot and met friends in a rented house. On February 24th, I woke up at 4am from a nightmare and lay awake looking at the ceiling. I read the news. I felt the silence buzzing with something scary, dark, and immense. I looked out the window, wrote dozens of messages and watched my son sleep. And when he woke up, I quietly told him, “Just don’t be scared. The war has really started.” Your psyche does not know what to do with the news of a war. You don’t have a plan if your life will be destroyed, and such a plan is unpleasant to make. In the first days of the war, I sat helplessly in front of the TV screen, watching how Russian troops entered the city where I grew up and where my parents and brother live. They shot civilians and cars. In one of the cars, a familiar young volunteer girl was with her friends. She was only twenty-six years old and was bringing food for the animals. Nastya and everyone who was with her were shot in Bucha. These young and brave guys just wanted to help, they could live a very long time, love, create, and tell us about those days. In the group of my former classmates from school in Irpin, messages appeared every minute. Someone was looking for their father, and then found out he was lying shot dead in his own yard. Someone posted a photo of his burned down apartment. There are hundreds of such stories. Later I became a frog again. I naively believed that people in Russia would suddenly understand everything and put down their weapons. It’s not politicians who shoot, it’s people. Now they will wake up and go out to protest, they only need to see it all, we need to explain everything to them. We’re on our own land, right? Our home has been invaded; we’re being killed. Look! Instead, many well-known Russian public and cultural figures voiced their support for the war. I can’t find words when this war is called only the war of P **** and his bandit entourage, or the war of only uneducated sections of the population poisoned by propaganda. No, I’m talking about educated people who had a great influence not only in Russia, but also in Ukraine. I followed their activities on social networks and consumed their creative products. For some reason I considered them to be representatives of some other, more adequate, non-violent Russia. It soon became clear that there would be no protest against the war in Russia, not only because of fear of the security forces. There are too few souls that have been touched there, that’s all. According to The Washington Post in February 2023, 500,000 to a million people left Russia. The population of Russia is over 140 million. Consider this as a protest of just 1.4% of the population. Those who left and were connected with the media suddenly led the opposition movement and began to awaken their population. It’s good, but too late. Reading and watching these opposition programs, I kept thinking what it was like... Like a half-boiled frog trying to revive the boiled one. During the last thirty years of Ukraine’s independence, Russia has waged a whole series of wars. Transnistria, Abkhazia and Georgia, Chechnya, Syria, the annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea and the provocation of the conflict in the east of Ukraine. Most often, Russia went to “defend”, but in the process a lot of people died. When war is endlessly on the news, people involuntarily get used to it and the water in the saucepan heats up. War becomes something ordinary, something normal, while there is nothing more abnormal. Gradually, the opposition disappears in the country, and the degree in the saucepan grows. The mood is supported by talk about invincibility, and necessarily about the great culture, the immense Russian soul. Who wants to jump out of such a saucepan? Outside, they shout, “Save yourself, you were deceived,” but inside everyone seems to be fine. And then a person receives a summons to the front, he needs to drive a tank into a yard in a neighbouring country or drop a rocket on a residential building, and he is ready, he has been cooked. For a long time, I thought that the war was somewhere far away. In the nineties in Ukraine, one could often hear the phrase, “At least we are not at war with anyone.” As if it depends only on us. Of course, everyone knew from history that Ukraine is a tasty morsel in agrarian, industrial and general strategic terms. Therefore, for many years, as part of the Russian Empire and the USSR, the Ukrainian intelligentsia perished. Ukrainian identity has been hushed up and polished for at least three hundred years. But people in the majority tirelessly believed in the best or had a bad memory or were not ready to be puzzled by something complicated. Meanwhile history repeats itself until the lesson is learned. What is the lesson? We stubbornly gave the gun into the hands of the one who shot at us many times. I’m in a bad position for all this reasoning as a Ukrainian born in Moscow. It is an oxymoron, and because of this, at home, I will never be completely accepted. I will never earn complete trust in Ukraine and in that sense, I’m forever stuck on the No90 train between Moscow and Kyiv on my way home. The more crimes Russia commits on Ukrainian soil, the more disgusting and bloody the line in my passport will be. However, in comparison with the pain that this war brought to people, this line is an ordinary clerical trifle. Perhaps I feel differently, because Moscow still presses me with its superficial grandeur, a fake cult created by those who benefited from it. I love the way the Irish say, “You’re grand”. In direct translation into Ukrainian, this means “you’re great”, “you’re grandiose.” I think that maintaining greatness and confidence in the people that we meet every day and share the same time with them is much better than filling countries and dictators with greatness. I don’t need my home to be big, great, better than the rest. I just want to have a home.

According to the UN, at the time of writing, more than eight million people have left their homes in Ukraine because of the war. Behind this figure are millions of stories. Someone survived the horrors of the evacuation or lost loved ones, someone left more calmly and consciously, someone’s home is gone forever. I heard about an old lady whose house was hit by a rocket, and she just drove forward and forward. She had no relatives, no plan, no things, except for a small rag bag. She got on the bus, then on the train, and another train again, and ended up in Poland, where she met volunteers. When they asked her where she was heading, the old lady replied, “Straight ahead.”


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