Featured Article

That was 2023

Published on Jan 10, 2024

Ukrainian article of the week published in the 14th edition of the "What about Ukraine" newsletter on January 11th, 2024. The article was written by Vira Baldyniuk for Korydor and was translated for n-ost by Olesia Storozhuk.

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There are so many broken dialogues in our messengers. A silence we can do nothing about – neither break, nor erase.

My mother tells me: “You know what bothers me? Not the rumble of missiles and Shahed drones each night, but that our children do not cry on the trains to Przemyśl in Poland. And stray dogs in our cities, obligingly, along with people, cross the streets when the lights turn green.”

Since that February when things began, I have bought my mother three beautiful nightgowns. Like all Ukrainian women, when going to bed, she cares about how she will look should she be found if you-know-what happens.

I’ve also learned that some search dogs are trained to find those who are alive, while others are taught to look for those who are dead. Some dogs are universal.

For my father, I buy flower bulbs. My dad is looking for more and more new grape varieties. It is our only way of thinking about tomorrow.

One can feel other people's experiences hanging heavily on their shoulders like sacks of wet sand. The poet Taras Shevchenko’s statues are bedded in sacks in every city, and their residents have their own supply. The stories told from these experiences uncover just the surface of the black hole swallowing up more and more territories and lives. There is much exhaustion and painful understanding that this all will last for a long time. A childish question is whirling in my head: How long is for a long time? How far away is tomorrow?

Knowing how Instagram algorithms work, I often deliberately watch videos about the rehabilitation of soldiers. I don’t want to look away; I don’t want this part of existence to be just a distant piece of ‘social news’ from the media. I want to understand what it really means to ‘come back alive’. Within a month, my feed was full of these invincible people exercising their bodies. Their first steps on a new prosthetic leg, falling over, climbing a mountain on crutches, their first jog, and falling over again. I see the always-smiling Julia, who has three little sons and half a husband. The family is happy together. With just one hand and one leg, her husband is exercising, re-learning how to drive a car, and knitting paracord bracelets for his brothers-in-arms. He is a great man, greater than many others.

But I am ashamed of one thing. I don’t subscribe anymore to new accounts of unfamiliar combatants and medics. One of them stopped publishing posts in July, and another in September.

Sometimes, I peek into the darkness, by opening misdirected emails from Russia. Once, I got a purchase confirmation for buying perfumes. The item was ordered and paid for from a small town in the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. I share a similar name to the recipient, so, out of interest, I quickly found her page on social networks and discovered that it was a young woman trained in cookery, and was fond of taking photos with friends who call each other ‘my caramel’.

I totally forgot this story. But after February, I received another message saying this woman bought face cream and under-eye patches. Maybe it’s her way of relieving stress — having heard about the war, finding no place for herself, and thus making compulsive purchases? Perhaps she is afraid of the import ban on quality cosmetics? More and more letters arrived in my inbox. The woman was eagerly buying clothes, towels, shampoos and face masks. I was wondering what had changed in her life. Her beloved disappeared from her pictures — apparently, he went to kill Ukrainians, like her brother, who were both wearing a uniform in the photographs. Obviously, her husband's payouts increased. Among the woman’s last orders was an item for a child — a khaki sports suit labelled ‘Defender of the Homeland’ for a three-year-old boy.

Then I saw a children’s art competition on a website from the family's region. One of the drawings of a boy named Artyom was called ‘The Offensive’. It displayed some village with armed Russian soldiers, tanks and planes — all coursing in one direction. One thing caught my eye: the bombs were falling onto the roofs of white houses behind those soldiers. What a sincere child.

The town of Bor where this woman lives is in a Russian province, with only nine hours of electricity daily, news informing about the opening ceremony of a new memorial board for an ‘Special Military Operation - SMO hero’, mixed with news about the festive New Year tree. ‘Simple Russian happiness’, all an ordinary family from Bor needs — killing Ukrainians and going shopping.

For many of us, this war has become a job. It cares neither about the Statistical classification of economic activities in the European Community, nor your experience; it is pleased with everyone — teachers, farmers, writers and petrol station owners. As one of my friends, serving now, said: “Buy combat boots while you are still at home, and start breaking them in. You’ll have no time later.”

Military cemeteries grow relentlessly — the silent yellow-blue cities. Other cities are crawling out from other parts of the country — the burned, black ones.

Silence embraces foreign audiences in film festivals halls in the rest of the world. They sit in a daze after watching a Ukrainian documentary, failing to understand how such a reality is possible. That’s too much. Ukrainians live in this reality daily, with no alternatives. Symbolic minutes of silence at cultural events commemorating war-dead writers or journalists seem to not be enough. We need hours of silence, with so many voices lost.

Still, the most popular phrase of the year seems to be: ‘Will you finally shut up and fuck off?’ It suits just everyone.

Foreign reporters are still astonished by Ukrainians persistently continuing to live their normal lives — drinking morning coffee (the best in Europe), opening exhibitions and new bookstores, and attending premieres, where the rooms are always overcrowded. However, at a closer glance, one can notice their eyes, red from crying and constant sleep deprivation. Having no idea about the everyday struggle to maintain ‘normality’, one can write a critical reportage from Ukraine about how frighteningly unpretentious Ukrainians’ needs have become, if their best gift would be a signed shell wishing death to Russians… Ukrainians even decorate Christmas trees with used shells. Are they still people of culture?

For silence not to become a personal pain and for the world to understand the experience of living in war, words and texts are still needed. They shouldn’t evoke pity or inappropriate feelings of guilt from readers — but follow the everyday path a person walks in the most challenging circumstances.

What is valuable today? Probably, the feeling of not being alone, abandoned. The possibility of bringing up a question that scares you. ‘How long is for a long time?’ Most often, we are depressed by the experience gap between us all, by the fact that we have nowhere to go and no one to tell about this immense pain and injustice.

Women who stayed in Ukraine. Women who are returning. Women who still live abroad. They are all right when feeling the need to ask: ‘What can you actually know about my life?’

To bridge the gap, to weave a grid of vivid conversations and texts between the worlds of peace and war, war and war — this is probably why stories are written and new plays or films are produced.

We have something to learn from each other and should break in the boots of each other’s experience while we can. And while the green dot is still lit up on messenger.

My father has pruned and wrapped the vines in the garden; the iris bulbs lurk in the earth, waiting for their time; new life is coming very soon. While somewhere, obviously and insanely, our neighbours are raising new Kinzhals.