Essays On War

Dmytro Lazutkin. Ice Cream

Ice Cream

My four-year-old daughter asked me, “Daddy, what is it like to dream?”

“Isn’t it too early?” I thought to myself. It mustn’t be. Am I ready for such challenges? I definitely am! After all, I can’t keep silent about it, even though some seemingly easy questions are not that easy to answer. I try to talk as confidently as possible, as I’m an expert on this topic. I’m an adult–I have to be an authority. I have to know the answer…

“It’s simple,” I tell her. “To dream means imagining what you want has come true.” Her face brightens.

“I dream you’ll buy ice cream, and we’ll eat it on the bench next to the river. I dream we’ll look at how the sun sets behind the trees, and you’ll tell me where the wind comes from and stories about yourself as a boy.”

I was interested in entirely different things when I was a little boy. I don’t know why. My father and I would usually talk about cars, boats, and football, but mostly about football. We discussed goals and thought about who would become the next champion of the world. Would it be Brazil or Germany? Argentina or Italy? Why was Diego Maradona so cool even though he scored a goal against Britain with his hand? Why did Franz Beckenbauer trust Karl-Heinz Rummenigge more than Rudy Feller? Why, if the team was composed of ten Ukrainians, was it still called the football team of the USSR? And our goalkeeper was no worse than Rinat Dasaev, I’m telling you!

The air raid siren suddenly interrupts our conversation. “What an awful sound,” my kid says. We must go to the bomb shelter even though most people remain on the streets and continue about their business. The probability of a rocket hitting us is pretty small. First of all, Ukraine’s air defense system can intercept it. Second, there are neither military nor industrial objects in our neighborhood. There is absolutely nothing of strategic interest here. However, after the main streets of Kyiv, Nikopol, Vinnytsia, and Kharkiv were shelled, the second argument does not seem as persuasive anymore.

“Can a Russian rocket hit us?” she asks.

“A Russian missile can hit anywhere. Let’s go faster.”

We pass by two young mothers with strollers. The women are chatting with each other, and their babies are sleeping. Why didn’t they flee the city? Why are thousands of people staying, even though it is dangerous here? What keeps them in the country that has turned into a battle zone? Is it a reluctance to abandon their homes? Is it their faith that these hard times will not last forever? Is it an inability to realize all this horror is still possible in the twenty-first century?

Meanwhile, a dog hiding in the shadow of a linden tree starts to howl anxiously. It seems like dogs have felt a morbid affinity with the sirens, which signalized that somewhere above the Black Sea, a plane belonging to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation has fulfilled its routine work, launching death from point A to point B…

“And what are you dreaming about, daddy?”

I tell her I dream the war will end, and we don’t need to hide from Russian missiles anymore; she, her sister, and mommy all remain alive. A few years ago, the answer would have been different. I would talk about some tropical islands I’d like to visit, and the wondrous fruits there, which you can pick up from a tree by stretching out your hand, or the rocks from which you can jump into clear water while taking in the sight of tall palm trees, colorful birds and exotic fish. It would be impossible back then to go for a walk and fear your child being ripped apart by the shrapnel of a ballistic missile strike. This obsessive vision has been periodically chasing me for several months in a row now. I’ve almost learned how to block it, though.

Overripe mulberry berries littering the sidewalk stick to my child’s sneakers. My daughter walks, leaving purple traces behind her. Several teenagers continue to play basketball nearby. They wouldn’t abandon their routine even if the bombs fell very close. One can hear how they quarrel loudly, arguing whether there was a violation of the rules. We quickly turn to the closest grocery store. A frightened flock of pigeons looks like a unit of exposed saboteurs. Those peaceful birds began feeling uncomfortable in the city where, just a few months ago, everyone had been preparing for street battles. Trenches had been dug, and roadblocks and concrete slabs had been put in place so that, if necessary, it would be possible to block any of the main roads Russian tanks tried to penetrate. Everyone was scared in those days. However, that fear was accompanied by strength and determination. Engineers and builders, students and taxi drivers, managers of shopping centers, and hairdressers were ready to take up arms. Most of them did it for the first time in their lives.

Now that the worst is over, Kyiv is gradually returning to its usual pace of life. Even missile strikes are perceived as something ordinary.

Only a few people are in the shelter near an underground parking lot. I turn on a cartoon about fairies for my daughter on my phone. Most of those present read the news from their phones, their faces illuminated by glowing screens in the semi-darkness: updated information from the front, news of losses, declarations of international support, and promises to supply weapons. Politics is now so prominent in our daily lives. Whether or not we will live to see another day in this war now depends so much on strategic plans and ambitions.

An hour later, I receive a notification that the air raid siren is over. People hurry to return to whatever they were doing before.

When we leave the bomb shelter, we head to the supermarket to buy two packs of ice cream.

Dreams must come true. I want my daughter to know it.


Translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan