Here is how my day starts now: upon opening my eyes I hug my husband and rejoice to the fact that I’m alive, uninjured, in an unscathed house with my beloved next to me. This means we’ve been given another day. I appreciate this fact now a thousand times more than before.
Then I check the news. I usually find out that we’d slept through one or two air raid alarms. Sirens can’t be heard in my house. My husband and I agreed that we wouldn’t run to the cellar in the middle of the night, as it’s more important to sleep so you are able to do something during the day and help others. We had decided that the probability of a missile hitting our house is not that high (although there is a military unit near our village, so an attack is still possible). Well, if it does happen… so be it. However, we do sleep dressed in the living room, with our documents packed in a bag next to us. This gives us the ability to immediately flee in case of a threat.
I was lucky enough to be able to evacuate my children the day after the war had begun. I have incredible friends: ones who’d agreed to take care of my two sons and brought them to safety after four days of travel (Cherkasy – Ivano-Frankivsk – Lviv – Uzhhorod – Slovakia – Warsaw). And others, who had taken care of sons’ stay in Poland. Thanks to them, I have the privilege of knowing that they’ll definitively be fine. Many people do not have such luxuries; they are bound to rush their children to shelter at every siren’s call, spending sleepless nights fearing for their lives.
Nonetheless, we all understand that Cherkasy is a quiet and safe place compared to Kyiv, Chernihiv, Mariupol, Kherson and dozens of other Ukrainian cities. Only a few missiles made it past our town, none of which reached their targets – the best case scenario under our current conditions.
After monitoring the news, I start checking in on my loved ones who are now far away, sending out the notorious “how are you?” over several messaging services. For example, to my sister, who has taken up arms, defending the city of Kiev with the territorial defence unit. The same city that has day and night been exposed to rocket fire and siege from all angles, thanks to the DRG (diversion intelligence group). My nephew is also there; at 18, he outright refuses to leave the capital. He came to enlist into the territorial defence unit multiple times, but they wouldn’t take him, wanting to spare the young life.
After making sure that everyone is alive and well, we have breakfast and make our way to Cherkasy. The trip used to take us 15 minutes, but nowadays it takes 30-40 minutes due to the two checkpoints stationed on the way. There is a line of cars at each one. They check your documents, glove compartment and trunk. The other evening, with our own two eyes we saw a rocket flying towards the city, illuminating the night sky. This was my first encounter with war in person, rather than through a screen.
We are driving through Cherkasy and although nothing is destroyed here, the city has changed. There are few people on the streets, few cars on the roads, and most of establishments are shut. Most of the gas stations are closed: there is no petrol. Along the roadside I see anti-tank “hedgehogs”, ready to block the roadway if any enemy armoured vehicles were to turn up. I see windows barricaded with bags of sand. I see billboards, once advertising commercials, that now accommodate messages to our invaders, such as “Cherkasy will fight back” and “Say ‘palianytsia’”, or point the way to the ‘Russian warship’.
I keep very busy during the day: organizing first aid courses, collecting supplies for the “cocktail party” we give to any unwanted guests, donating things to those in need, processing various requests from the military and civilians. We need to contact many people to make purchases and sort out logistics. “Help me evacuate my wife and two children from Kyiv!”, “We are looking for fleece fabric for the sewing of balaclavas!”, “Where can we stay the night in Vinnytsia?!”, “We need a bus to transport vegetables to Kiev!”, “Here is a list of medicines for the military!”. These requests fill up my Facebook and my head. Of the people I know who’d stayed back in Cherkasy, 99% are now doing the same work. Even when the siren calls, we just take shelter and continue working.
Why did I not leave? I have too much responsibility here: old parents, two dogs, and four cats. I took two of them in from a pregnant friend who had decided to flee with another friend and her two children. They drove off into the unknown, looking for a place to stay as they go. They didn’t need two more kitties for such travel, did they?! I still have my son’s parrot which was given over to my parents today. I couldn’t possibly leave all of that behind. And then there is the hatred that makes me want to speed up the end of the Russian world; I want it so badly. And I decided that so long as there was hope of the occupation failing, I would stay to take care of my family and animals, to help the army and civilians.
You need to get home before dark – it gets too scary at night. All lights are kept off for blackout, to camouflage us from the sky. One night I nearly broke my leg from falling in the dark. So now I’m careful to get home by 18 o’clock. But before leaving the town, I always buy something for my parents. There are no more haemostatic, sedative, and cardiac drugs at pharmacies. There are still supplies of food in grocery stores; only cereals, instant noodles and alcohol are absent from the shelves. My culinary hedonism has reached a new peak: one cannot deprive oneself of pleasure in such times. So, I buy tangerines, avocados (hee-hee, they’re all ripe now), salmon, tomatoes, and gourmet cheese. I know that soon this will all run out – we will have to survive on potatoes and lard alone. And I could do it. But while the opportunity exists, I’ll keep spoiling myself. Unfortunately, our home reserves of wine have run out, and the only bottle left is Cava for a special occasion – our Victory!
Evenings now consist of endless rereading of the news, talking to children and romantic candlelit (due to the blackouts) dinners with my husband. We also discuss the news over dinner. I can’t watch movies. I can’t read books. I can’t listen to music. I always need to be attentive: is that a plane flying? No, just the refrigerator noise. I cry very little, not out fear or sadness, but rather from knowing that I have lived out a wonderful life and have finally seen such greatness in Ukraine which I could only have dreamt of. Not everyone is this lucky.
That’s how I’ve been living for about a week. In this time many of my fellow citizens have been killed. I have seen the bombings of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, and Chernihiv. I have seen whole cities wiped off the face of the earth. I have witnessed for myself how Bayraktars function. How people stop armored vehicles with their bare hands. How children are birthed within the walls of a bomb shelter. How the world isolates Russia. How Zelensky is praised by his former political opposition. How the whole world is being draped in the colors of my flag. And I still cannot believe that this is all really happening to me. Is it the end of time?
I really want to read these lines again in many years. Look back on everything, wipe away the tear from my old face, and raise a glass for us all – in a free, bold country, that will lead way with the civilised world.
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