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Under the Clock

by Antonia G.


Time is merciless. It never stops to let you catch your breath. It does its job impeccably - ticking away our thoughts, fears, dreams, sorrows, passions, ticking away our very lives. I’m in Waterford, Ireland, sitting in a cosy coffee house called Under the Clock, humming a nursery rhyme, “The clock struck one...” It’s been almost a year since my nation was struck with shock and missiles. Every Ukrainian breathed in, but didn’t breathe out, fearing to let out loud sobs along with the exhale. I mentally go through the few belongings that were brought from Ukraine: one change of clothes for every member of my little family, my diary, my child’s toys, a photograph...

A Photograph My daughter is sleeping peacefully in a clean bed, surrounded by stuffed animals to guard her dreams. For months I kept this photograph on the screen of my phone to remember how precious her peaceful sleep is. For quite a while we followed the situation with the russian* troops building up on the border. Every day brought more tension. My husband finally asked me to leave Kyiv and take our daughter to my relatives. He stayed behind because his elderly mother was weak and bed-bound, and he attended to her. My husband is fully blind. He lost his eyesight a long time ago – before we met. But he can see what’s important and strives to protect his girls. We left Kyiv to stay with my relatives who once escaped the war in the eastern part of the country and settled in this little town in central Ukraine. On Monday morning, February 21st, my husband rang me crying. He went to his mother’s apartment and found her cold and motionless. After trying to comfort him on the phone, I bought bus and train tickets for myself and our 8-year-old and we rushed back home. The next day we were busy organising the funeral. While planning, I kept praying, “I hope we have enough time, I hope we have a few more days.” The funeral took place on a Wednesday followed by a small family gathering in the evening. This prayer kept running through my head again and again, “Please, just enough time for the living. We’ll pay tribute to the dead, but, God, please give enough time for the living.” We went to bed late on that night. And then a couple of hours later we woke up with the rest of the country to the sounds of bombs and explosions. “Has it begun?” we asked each other. “We didn’t have those few days after all,” I thought. Yes, we were expecting it. But it’s still impossible to feel prepared. I looked out the window of our apartment on the ninth floor and saw an endless line of cars with people trying to evacuate from the city. We didn’t own a car. We tried to buy train tickets online, but they were sold out. I only succeeded in buying tickets to western Ukraine for the next day. The backpacks were ready long ago – documents, laptops, chargers, snacks, socks, wet wipes, drinking water, toys. I packed two suitcases but only took one. After spending the night on the concrete floor in the basement of the apartment building, we decided to walk to the train station early to have time before our train. We instructed our child to follow what we said, to fall on the ground and shut her ears while keeping her mouth slightly open when we heard the whooshing sound of a missile. Then we went, my husband pulling our suitcase and holding my arm, as always, that’s the way we walk; my daughter holding my hand on the other side; me leading these two precious people and trying not to bend under the weight of the extra responsibility the war put on my shoulders. The trip was long, exhausting, frightening and sleepless. The faces of people around us were concerned, scared and desperate. We, the adults, kept cheering and reassuring our child that we were going to a safe place. Twenty-four or five hours later we made it to Budapest. We had very little sleep and only ate snacks. I booked a cheap bed-and- breakfast accommodation to get some rest and to decide what to Under the Clock do next. This is where I took a photo of my daughter in her sleep – in contrast with her being in a dirty and cold basement trying to find shelter from the horrors of war. Our friends from other countries kept messaging us and asking, “What are your plans? What are you going to do next? Where are you going?” I kept telling them, “I’m not sure yet. We’ll probably stay here for a week to recuperate and catch up on sleep.” Little did I know that it would be impossible to feel rested for months after that. Sleep no longer brings relief but I hope it does for our child. But we, the adults, never feel relieved anymore. I hope it will change when russians* stop trying to erase our nation from the map of the world. But for now, I can only find comfort when I see my child’s peaceful sleep. And that is enough to keep me going. *If russia’s attitude and politics towards Ukraine change, we’ll use the capital letter again. But for now, this is how Ukrainians write this word in media and even in schools.


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