A day in the life of an Ukrainian woman
It took guts to face even this tiny piece of naked, undepilated, tan-free truth: despite her undaunted façade, she was scared to her bones – right here, right now.
Yes, she was afraid. Also: sad, frustrated, tired, grumpy, and sick to the stomach because of this war.
With the candles put out, her girls sound asleep, the remaining power bank charge checked, and work email autoreply turned on just in case, Lesya wrapped her fingers around her thermal mug with the tea still warmish, and stared into the darkness, repeating the thought, poking her fear with a stick. Yes, she was afraid. Also: sad, frustrated, tired, grumpy, and sick to the stomach because of this war.
Earlier today, her girls came from the Sunday school lesson with the message kindly bestowed on them by the priest: no matter what happens, guard your hearts. Against what, she wondered. Against anger? Pain? Contempt? Was it possible, was it even human to guard your heart against those? If there were to be no anger, there should be no awareness of evil. No pain would mean no heart. Contempt toward the ones bringing violence and destruction was natural, and she wanted her daughters to know this. She would not suggest hatred to them as a solution – their dad, now in the army, often told the girls that he was there not because of hate towards their enemies but for the sake of his love for his family and home and country and the lake where they would very soon go kayaking again. If not for the war.
If there were to be no anger, there should be no awareness of evil. No pain would mean no heart.
Still, when Zlata, the oldest of two, asked her what guarding their hearts actually meant, she did not tell her daughter that it meant protecting it against any feeling she could (and would) have towards evil, the enemy, and the war itself. Because it did not. Not to her. Instead, she told her children that they had to make sure their hearts never became unkind to those near them: to the poor, the wounded, and the sad. A lost kitten, a veteran with a disfigured body, an exhausted young mother at a supermarket, and a crabby neighbor whose two sons had been at the frontlines for months and months now.
She took her daughters for some hot chocolate at the café after church. The generator was growling loudly near the entrance. The electricity was off again. She thought of the meat in her freezer she had to cook tonight to save it from spoiling if the blackout lasted too long. There were two glass bowls next to the barista’s stand – one for the tipping, another – for the donations to the army. She gave her daughters money to put into both. As they were chattering and giggling, she took out her phone. Just a year ago, she would have considered such a thing a sign of bad parenting. Not anymore. She sneaked several photos of the girls and sent them to their dad. The music was quiet. She listened in. Bob Dylan’s Simple Twist of Fate. She used to love the song. Now, it only made her nervous. The longing and deep sadness inside her resonated with the lyrics, the chords made her ache inside. With her ear still sharp, she overheard the two college girls at the distant table discussing a mother whose son, their peer, was killed at war. How strong and noble she was, and how well she handled her grief. But did she?
She told her children that they had to make sure their hearts never became unkind to those near them: to the poor, the wounded, and the sad.
Lesya knew this mother. Always caring, always kind, always eager to share. When approached by the journalists, she kept her chin up and never cried. She was caring for her son’s brothers in arms now. Did her job well. Volunteered at the hospital. Stuck to her normal routine. She even smiled, but her smile was the one of sagebrush. Her agony was so severe that it remained inside.
Lesya never allowed herself to think about what she would do if her husband got killed. The only thing she knew was that as long there was his heartbeat in this world, every single cell of her body was illuminated with love and desire to live, too.
At home, she never used the black trash sacks anymore. The unrecognizable body parts of the fallen defenders were gathered in those at the front. She knew it was the price paid for her own life, for the relative warmth of her home, her coffee, and her daughters’ hot chocolate drank in a cozy café with the smiling barista. And for the peaceful darkness of her lonely, long, and mostly sleepless nights.
Her agony was so severe that it remained inside.
At first, those wartime nights broke into her home with terror. Her alarm suitcase ready, her daughters never in their pajamas, but in warm tracksuits instead, with their coats, boots, hats, scarfs, and mittens close by. The sirens wailed, and she was always quick to gather her children and the suitcase, and rush to the cold, damp basement to never get back to sleep there, always alert, listening, praying, glancing at her kids, at the neighbor’s kids and dogs, and cats, and a parrot, and the elderly lady with her walking stick and swollen legs, always sobbing and whispering, and then sobbing even louder.
The air raid alerts pierced the air so often that the basements lost their popularity. The kids were sleeping in their pajamas again. Lesya could not sleep at all, because she knew that the air around her husband was pierced not by the annoying sounds of sirens, but shelling, explosions, screaming, and death. He told her that she should, ought to learn to sleep again, but instead, she was buying more coffee, a highlighter to mask the dark circles under her eyes, and some rouge to make herself look, well, alive.
At home, she never used the black trash sacks anymore. The unrecognizable body parts of the fallen defenders were gathered in those at the front.
She slept the whole night for the first time since the beginning of the war when he was sent home for a short retreat. He had been wounded (less than a scratch, like a mosquito bite, he told the girls) and needed some rest. And then he was sent to the front again, and now, instead of fear, deep in her, the longing was settling in. She cared for their daughters, she worked and volunteered, she sent him parcels, she learned to knit to make some (all right, numerous!) woolen socks for his brothers in arms for the nearing Christmas and in so doing, lessen the ache inside her. She drove the kids – her own and those of their neighbors, to the mountains, the most faraway place that has never heard a siren wail. They gathered the flowers and porcini mushrooms, rode the horses, washed their feet in the creek, watched the stars, and squirrels, and birds (among them – a huge owl with an invisible magic neck, turning her head around as if it was some carousel) through the binoculars, drank goat’s milk, laughed freely on the squeaky wooden swing, watched the sunsets and inhaled the quietness of the morning fogs, and were happy – well, almost happy. But the war continued.
As she was laying in her bed tonight, feeling her fear, staring at it, dissecting it with her thoughts but not making it any less by cutting it into pieces, she thought that after the war they would have to make ramps everywhere. She had thought of it before, when her kids were little, and she pushed them in the stroller, but now, the thought of all the veterans and civilian victims of the war, made her shiver. They will have to modernize their country not for the sake of progress, but for the sake of the vulnerable and the dignity of their own people. They will need to think of recreation and counseling for the orphans and widows, and the ones made homeless in a flash. But will their efforts be enough?
They will have to modernize their country not for the sake of progress, but for the sake of the vulnerable and the dignity of their own people.
She was producing a mental checklist of the things they would have to do after the war, the things she wanted to participate in, because she could not bear naming the things that she was actually afraid of. Despite all her visible courage, she was scared, so scared, so tired of her fear, so lonesome, so in need of a warm and tight embrace.
Then came the morning, and the naked truth she had been facing during the night, slipped on the robe of (pretend) normality. Lesya woke up the girls, poured some warm milk into their cereal bowls, made herself a cup of coffee (and then a second dose of the glorious caffeine), checked if the girls had enough water in their school bottles and a pair of extra clean socks in case of spending several lessons in the basement due to the air raids. A mem from her husband landed in their Whatsapp chat. It was funny, and she laughed. She drove the kids to school and opened her laptop.
The morning news of the army’s advances on the front came together with new obits.
The Romanian version of the same article: O zi din viața unei ucrainence.
(Photo By Oleh Petrasiuk)
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Plată cu OP
NR. ÎNREG: 15/A/10.03.2017
SWIFT : INGBROBU