My head is cracking. Yesterday a trip which, according to my GPS, is supposed to take 3 hours, took 9 hours instead. I was driving my three nieces, my sister and her husband away to the safest place we could think of. We are now in Zakarpatska Oblast, the westernmost region of Ukraine. We were given shelter by people we never knew. We asked them to stay on the top floor of their two-story house. They let us stay overnight and gave us a very warm welcome. For 9 hours I was following the news on the radio and checking various news channels on Telegram. This mix of wait, lack of sleep and horrible headlines was torture.
Tonight Kyiv, the city I was born in, was bombed. My parents, age 60, haven't left it. Neither has my aunt with her three daughters. Nor my grandmother, who is 85. They spent the night in the basement, where they slept on makeshift beds. They heard shots and loud noises around the local power plant and in the Troieshchyna district. They didn't know who was shooting but said that it was probably our military—and they did a good job defending themselves.
My grandmother's life began with war. She was 4 years old when German occupying forces entered her native village of Bykovo near Mahilioŭ, Belarus. When Belarus was bombed, she was around the same age as my nieces are now. She was hospitalized then with a severe ear swelling, which would lead to a complete loss of hearing in one ear. Bombs were exploding around the hospital and everyone had to hide—everyone except my grandmother and her mother. She couldn't move because of the operation so they had to stay inside the hospital, where they couldn't keep away from bombs and shots.
Together with the great-granddaughters of my grandmother, two girls of 6, and one of 10, I learned what shellings, sirens and bomb shelters are. My grandmother is 85 now, she's dying and needs constant care. She can barely handle a conversation and responds to questions with mumbling. Most of the time she simply sits with her eyes closed, unable to get herself off the bed.
When my parents heard the first shots in Kyiv —towards 5 AM—my parents rushed out of their home to take my grandmother to their house. They had planned in advance that they weren't going to flee the war, because she wouldn't survive that and since someone had to be with her. Once in her apartment, they said, "It's time". "It isn't," she replied. Then my mom told her Putin had attacked us. "What a bastard," she replied and then, according to my parents, started to behave normally. Her eyes usually remain closed, but now she opened them. She remained completely calm during the trip across Kyiv, even though we were almost sure she wouldn't survive it. She walked up to the second floor with the help of my parents. Now she has to survive a war for the second time in her life.
My grandmother started remembering things. Paradoxically, it seems that her health has improved. During our rare conversations, when we have the chance to get in touch with each other, my mother says that my grandmother has started maintaining small dialogues. She is also experiencing flashbacks. On the first night of war grandmother got out of the bed in the middle of the night, which was unthinkable considering her condition, and said that she would hide. After being asked "where?", she responded, "in the cupboard". Why the cupboard, we'll never know. I think this is a memory of a small girl from a Belarusian village.
Despite her worsening cognitive abilities and her recent inability to string two words together, now my grandmother repeats to our relatives, "You do not understand what war is like. You do not understand how terrible this is". When she was healthier, she kept telling me the same story throughout my childhood. It was about her being taken to be executed by the Germans as a little girl. This happened not once, but twice. The Germans put all the villagers in a line and my great-grandmother put my grandmother in the front row so that she would be shot first without suffering.
Both times, the execution was cancelled at the last minute. Before the war, a German woman had settled in the village, and somehow every time she managed to persuade the Germans not to shoot. I wonder what is this woman's story, and what she felt when the soldiers of her home country marched into another country and were going to kill people who had become dear to her.
These days I hear lots of Russians asking for compassion. "You should understand it is hard for us. We did not elect this president. We are hurting. We are feeling terrible. We are seeking moral support". Despite the fact that my life is in danger, I somehow can understand those feelings.
But I also want to ask: Maybe you can do more? Maybe you have some facilities or resources? Maybe you can do something to, metaphorically, stop the execution?
For example, one Russian colleague, with whom we'd only had work-related conversations and just a few message exchanges, asked me if I needed money. Some people asked me for forgiveness with a phrase that speaks to me: "We haven't done enough to stop it." Trust me, this sounds much more humane than saying "I did not elect this government" to a person whose life is in danger, and who sees on the news that her childhood memories, as well as her most cherished places, are bombed.
If you do not have funds, you can distribute information. Maybe there are still people around you who think that NATO is to blame. Maybe you still haven't written to your Ukrainian friends and asked for their forgiveness. Maybe you haven't used all of the means you have to make your position clear.
I want to believe we are doing incredibly well with the minimal support that we have. This also concerns ordinary people, who're saving their children, taking out their possessions, trying to think where they can get weapons for the territorial defence of their hometowns, learning to make Molotov cocktails, despite being afraid of handling flammables. And certainly, this applies to our fucking amazing military. We are defending ourselves passionately, until the last drop of blood. But I want to say that it is your brothers and your uncles who are going to war. It is your aunts and mothers serving as doctors and other professionals subject to military service.
This is your war. It was you who started it, even if you personally did not make this decision. It is yours because it is related to you.
I am asking you to think deeply about what you can do in this situation. Acknowledging your guilt means acknowledging your responsibility. Yes, it is scary, but so is the situation. This is your government even if you did not vote for it. Only you, having gathered all of your strength, can stop it.
26th of February, 2022