by Katya H.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALAN COMPTON
From an early age, my reality was torn between two countries - Russia and Ukraine. It turned out the war between these countries began for me much earlier than 2022 or 2014, when Russia occupied part of Ukrainian territory. It turned out in my childhood, I had many questions that I did not dare to ask, and the answers to them came only with time and personal experience. This is a story about the little girl who felt the confrontation between two countries and the heavy breath of a Soviet past long before the full-scale war. I grew up with this story, parting with illusions, and trying to find myself and my home. Everything turned upside down in 1986, after the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This station was relatively close to the house where my parents lived in the Kyiv region. Of course, my mother was worried about how the radiation would affect her children, and, as soon as she became pregnant with my brother, she went to give birth in Moscow where her parents lived. A year later, in 1987, I was born in Moscow too. In 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics officially collapsed, and independent countries of the former Union plunged into turmoil. Raising two small children at this time meant not always having food, clothing, or toys for them, so my parents made the decision to separate me and my brother. I stayed in Moscow until I was five years old, where my grandparents became my parents. My brother and mother left for the Kyiv region, where they reunited with my father and his parents.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALAN COMPTON
Five years may not seem like a long time, and, while I don’t remember most of it, it had a huge influence on me. When it was time to go to school and return to my family in Ukraine, I got confused. I didn’t understand why I had to leave my grandparents. I was told my home was in Moscow because I was born there and everything there is dear to me. I was loved and pampered. Why did it all have to be taken away? However, my things were packed, my mother came to get me, and the Moscow-Kyiv train No90 was waiting for us. I was crying, almost convulsing, as the train moved off and the faces of my grandparents outside the window moved further and further away. Grandpa ran after the train, which was the last straw. In the morning, the train burst onto the bridge over the Dnipro River, and we were in Kyiv. Mom was nearby, and outside the window, the city appeared with green hills and golden tops of churches that looked like truffles. Then there was another train through the forest, a long road, and a big house. Not a skyscraper of sixteen floors, but one like in the pictures - with square windows and a triangular roof. I was greeted very warmly, and what surprised me was that I was met with the words, “Finally you are home.” Thus began my life in between the two countries, which was suddenly arranged for me by train No90.
Irpin, Ukraine It’s the middle of the summer, and as always, it’s a bit cool in our yard because of the river nearby. There are green apples on the trees with a pink blush. So calm and quiet here — no one is in a rush. Many people work on their private land in fields called “gorod”, and this requires consistency and attention, but not haste. I love it when Grandpa, my father’s dad, takes me and my brother for a bike ride to the river. We seem to fall into a painting - a white-blue sky, a yellow-green field, a river and a narrow path. Just go ahead and don’t think about anything. My grandmother, a teacher of Ukrainian language and literature, prepares me for school, gives me dictations. I became acquainted with the local Irpin library, which smelled of wood and yellowed pages of old books. I already read Ukrainian fluently, and thanks to my grandfather, I also sing. He listens to Ukrainian folk songs on the radio and invites me to sing along until... “Choo- choo”, train No90 — I pack T-shirts, shorts, windbreaker, sandals, a sandwich, and my colouring book.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALAN COMPTON
Moscow, Russia The huge platform of the Kievsky railway station in Moscow. The train slows down before stopping, and I look for my grandfather, my mother’s father, among the faces. I missed him a lot. Grandfather is easy to recognize, he is very handsome, tall, military bearing, and smiling. I get off the train like a princess. Grandfather grabs me in his arms. The first feeling is exciting, scary, everything is buzzing, ringing with iron. Grandfather meets me in his “Moskvich” car, bright as an orange. We call it “Rijik”. We drive through the city, tall buildings, their tops not to be seen, even if I stick my head out of the window. The heat is unbearable. On the outskirts of the city, a damp cold entrance of a sixteen- storey building brings relief. The entrance is painted with graffiti. The buttons of the old elevator are burned out. We rise with a roar. Finally, Grandmother meets us. I always like that first breath when I enter the apartment for the first time after a long absence. It smells of food, warmth, cleanliness, they love and wait for me there. I like to look into my grandmother’s baskets, try on shoes, rummage through the bookshelves. There really are no Ukrainian books here. Why? “Choo choo”, train No 90, my grandmother washes and irons T-shirts and shorts, bakes buns for the journey, packs a chicken leg with pickles in my lunch box (a classic for trains of those times). I don’t want to leave, but this time there are no tears. Night, customs, morning — we fly to the bridge over the Dnipro. Kyiv, I missed you.