A Confession, A Bomb, A Knife

Two stories from Ukrainian women. One who is still in her hometown with her 10 year old child. One who had to flee her hometown in 2014 when Russians blew up her home.

A Confession, A Bomb, A Knife
Feature image by Maria Prymachenko, A Dragon Descends on Ukraine 1987

Before I share two Ukrainian stories, a moment to confess my weakness as a storyteller.

There is a particular heaviness in sharing other people’s stories. I’ve always felt it. When I share my own story, it feels as though I am putting something down. The story remains my own, but it feels lighter as I continue to carry it. When I share other people’s stories, it feels as though I am picking something up. The heaviness remains with me, it weighs down my thoughts, my work, my cells, my step, my eyes. It’s the least I can do. That weight is an honor and an obligation.

To give a sense of scale, Kyiv is about the size of Chicago, Kharkiv the size of Philadelphia, and Mariupol the size of Oakland. That’s what’s under attack right now

— Josh Meyers (@DrJoshMeyers1) March 2, 2022

But I am not a saint or anything close to it. I cried in a CVS parking garage this morning. Maybe because they couldn't get our insurance to cover my daughter's epi pen. (That will work out.) But I think mostly because of the heaviness of all of the stories I am trying to tell. Of course, I feel guilty and foolish and weak because of this. What is this weight compared to nearly anything else? Nothing! But it’s not nothing to me. And so I must say that I can only hold the bit I am trying to hold because so many of you read these stories and lift them, and the women telling them, with me. Thank you for making up for my weakness with your strength.

Twins were born in #Kharkiv yesterday under fire. Today these boy and girl are orphans. Their parents died in the shelling of the #Russian occupiers. Parents stayed with their children for less than a day...

Photo from the bomb shelter in the Kharkiv maternity hospital. pic.twitter.com/VhEcDyVm95

— Inna Sovsun (@InnaSovsun) March 2, 2022

And also...maybe it’s the stories I can’t share that pressed me into the floor of that parking garage. The stories that are going quiet before they’re told. Some of the emails I’ve received in broken English from women in places like Kyiv and Kharkiv. The ones that go something like this one from a woman in Kyiv,

Hello,my name is O—, I'm from Ukraine, Kyiv.

A friend of mine gave yiur e-mail to contact and write smth fir your article.

What exactly fo you want to see.

I respond! But then I do not hear from them again. And I wonder if they’re dead, if they’ve fled, if they’re in a hospital or rubble. And I hate myself for not being up at 2am when an email came in. Or for not checking my email at school drop off when another email arrived. Because maybe if I’d responded right away, they’d know someone was listening. And I know that’s extreme or silly or the ramblings of a woman who has always felt and thought too much. But I think the stories we do not pick up are the heaviest things we carry.

It makes me think of this tweet from Megan K Stack. A brilliant journalist, author of one of my favorite books, and contributing writer at New York Times Opinion.

As moved as I am by the harrowing stories from the train stations and borders of Ukraine, it’s impossible not to think of all the conflicts where there are no departing trains and no borders that can be crossed, in short, no escape.

— Megan K. Stack (@Megankstack) March 3, 2022

I'll keep asking for home stories from Ukraine and other places riven by war, because I know you'll keep helping me hold them.

I hope to publish more home in war, war in home stories from mothers, women, caretakers and other people who do the work of the home. From Ukraine, yes. And also from other places violated by armed conflict - Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and on and on. If you'd like share your home story, please email me at meg@megconley.com.

For now, two stories from Ukrainian women. One who is still in her hometown with her 10 year old child. One who had to flee her hometown in 2014 when Russians blew up her home. I've redacted both of their last names.

10 Years Old

by Olena L______

Nova Ushutsa, Khmelnitskiy region, Summer 1986

I’m 10 years old happy Ukrainian girl

sitting together with my grandparents at their so-called summer kitchen and listening to my grandfather’s stories about his teenage years. Those weren’t the regular teenage stories. Those were the stories about bombing, shooting, death, survival & faith that our land will never suffer from anything like this anymore.

I loved my grandfather & believed him. I believed that after all the suffering the war will never happen again.

I believed.

Until 4 in the morning of February 24th, 2022, my son, who is 10 years old was woken up by the sounds of bombardment.

Thousands of people are living in Kyev's subway stations. (Thanks to @BohdanaNeborak for sharing the photo w/ me).

What future novelist will be describing this life? What political analyst (or fortune-teller) can possibly say how things will go in this underground city tomorrow? pic.twitter.com/c5Wm7eHbZE

— Ilya Kaminsky (@ilya_poet) March 3, 2022

Thank The Lord My Parents Are No Longer Alive

by Elina I_____

Hi Meg,

I saw your message on Instagram and decided to write a few words. It’s in Russian language (yes, I’m Ukrainian, and yes - I speak and think in Russian, and no one ever punished me for it in Ukraine, despite all Putin’s lies). I write it in Russian, so Russians can understand my pain they caused.

Translation follows

…Спасибо, Господи, за то, что моих родителей уже нет в живых…

Это была моя первая мысль, когда утром 24 февраля я увидела новости о том, что Россия так подло, исподтишка, по-фашистски напала на мирных людей Украины в 4 часа утра.

…Спасибо, Господи, за то, что мои родители уже не видят тех, кого они называли друзьями и братьями, и кто сегодня убивает украинских детей…

…Спасибо, Господи, за то, что моя бабушка - ребёнок Великой Отечественной Войны, уже не испытает этого ужаса от звука летящих бомб и пуль. И уже никогда не скажет, как ей невыносимо жаль, что ее отец погиб на фронте за жизнь «лидера великой страны» изувера…

Я выросла на Донбасе, мой родной язык - русский. И никто, НИКТО и НИКОГДА не притеснял меня и мои права говорить и думать на этом языке. До сегодняшнего дня, когда моя боль и всепоглощающая ненависть достигли такого уровня, что я хочу ножом выдирать всю русскую речь из своей памяти и похоронить ее под обломками моего родного дома на Донбасе, который российские «миротворцы» оккупанты взорвали ещё в 2014 году, «защищая» эту самую речь. Сегодня вы разрушили Харьков - город, который я называла вторым домом… и это самый большой русскоговорящий город в Украине после Донецка!!

Больше русскоговорящих городов в Украине нет!! Вы их уничтожили - вместе с ветеранами, стариками и детьми!!

Не прикрывайтесь словами о мире, когда ваша единственная цель - убивать и разрушать.

English translation courtesy of a dear reader. She did not let me pay her for her work. I’ll be donating to a humanitarian organization instead.

...Thank the Lord that my parents are no longer alive...

Was my first thought when on the morning of February 24. I saw the news about how Russia had attacked the peaceful people of Ukraine at 4 am in such a sneaky, stealthy, fascist way.

...Thank the Lord that my parents can no longer see those whom they called friends and brothers, who today are killing Ukrainian children...

...Thank the Lord that my grandmother—a child of the Great Patriotic War[WWII], can no longer experience this horror from the sound of flying bombs and bullets. And that she will never say how unbearably sorry she is that her father perished at the front for the life of “the leader of a great country” a savage...

my pain and all-consuming hatred have reached such levels that I wish I could take a knife and rip out all the Russian language from my memory and bury it beneath the debris of my native home in the Donbas

I grew up in the Donbas; my native language is Russian. And no one, NO ONE, EVER oppressed me and my right to speak and think in this language. Until this day, when my pain and all-consuming hatred have reached such levels that I wish I could take a knife and rip out all the Russian language from my memory and bury it beneath the debris of my native home in the Donbas, which Russian “peacemakers” occupiers also blew up in 2014, “defending” this same language. Today you destroyed Kharkov—a city I called my second home...and it’s the largest Russian-speaking city in Ukraine after Donetsk!!

There aren’t any Russian-speaking cities left in Ukraine!! You demolished them all, along with veterans, the elderly, and children!!

Don’t hide behind words about peace when your only goal is to kill and destroy.

I asked Elina if she had any pictures she wished to share. Below I share her response.

I was thinking to share with you some pictures of my blooming and happy city and its ruins now, but realized that I don’t want to spread this devastating pain… so, please kindly find attached a very last photo of my family’s happy days.

A Confession, A Bomb, A Knife

The photo was taken on my sister’s 16th birthday, on April, 25th 2014. It was a very last time our big family gathered together. A month later war came to our house….On the photo you can see myself, and two of my younger sisters next to our house garden. Nowadays we all live abroad, in different countries, and already get used to speak foreign languages… if Russian occupants’ idea was to uproot Russian-speaking population - they succeeded in their efforts! Ironical, isn’t it?

Yes, we lost our language, homes, our parents, our kids but no one can take our hope, love and unity. The darkest hour is just before the dawn. And Ukraine is going to bloom again, strong, beautiful and free!

A Confession, A Bomb, A Knife
Ukraine Blooming, Цвіте Україна by Maria Prymachenko. A Ukrainian artist, Prymachenko has long been one of my favorites. She captured the domestic in a way that feels both rigorous and warm. People classify her art in the genre known as "naive art." It's a term for simple, frank art painted by people without formal training. It's also a term I kind of despise, no matter who it is applied to. Prymachenko's art is frank but it is not simple. Russian forces burned down the art museum near her hometown. It was full of her work. At least 25 pieces are feared to be lost. 

I am donating to the humanitarian account at the National Bank of Ukraine on behalf of all three women who contributed to today’s newsletter. I am also donating on behalf of the women whose voices went quiet in my emails. I pray to God their voices are still ringing in their homes and on the streets of their country.

Read Previous Newsletters with Stories by Ukrainian Women : Olga Boichak writes about Ukrainian history, resilience, genocide and her own great-grandmother. + She Fled Kyiv with Her 5 Year Old Son. He wants to know when he can go home and build the Lego set he got for his birthday.