Essays On War

Iya Kiva. Further From Peace, Closer to Victory

Further From Peace, Closer to Victory

It all began with anticipation.

Perhaps that’s how people react when expecting a child which is the result of a rape, an unwanted conception they decided to keep. I told my foreign friends back in January that I would be staying in Ukraine. We engaged in a prolonged game of persuasion and denial, but ultimately, nobody emerged victorious. The full-scale invasion of Russia into Ukraine was a loss for us all. However, relief eventually arrived as the barbarians‘ waiting time came to an end. They had already arrived, killing, raping, torturing, and destroying everything in their path. A new time had come – both mythological and historical in nature.

Time has never felt as heavy as it does now. It’s like carrying a gravestone on your shoulders, bending your spine and distorting every step, an unshakeable weight that cannot be thrown off, like those with back problems cannot find comfort, trapped in the torture chamber of their own bodies. War, filling every inch of space and bearing down with its weight, is a constant source of sharp, unbearable pain that afflicts us around the clock, and for some, it can last an eternity.

Time transforms into a hospital with the suffocating scent of blood and medicine. The days in the war hospital ward drag on, sticking to each other like dirty strands of hair. People joke on social networks, asking „What day of February is it today?“ In just one night, the shortest month of the year turned into the longest of my life, an immeasurable, almost biblical day of creation. The river of war, which they say one should never step in twice, turned out to be a bottomless well of icy water. Despite this, Ukrainians learned to swim in it.

Ukrainians have learned a lot during the months of the great war. Time, the silent witness of all our movements and choices, has answered with the emergence of new features and people. These new characteristics are sharpened by fatigue, prolonged by insomnia, polluted by anger, childlike and senile at the same time, as if caught between life and death. They seem clumsy and plastic, as if sculpted in haste with the light of peace turned off. Although we still have to smooth them against the ruthless precision of mirror surfaces, these changes allow us to recognize those who share the bread and wine of being a Ukrainian. We share the time of thirst, the time of hunger, and the time of transformation. We will only truly be able to reflect on these changes later, after victory.

The war has become a permanent part of us now, etched onto our faces instead of being measured by watches or captured in countless photos on our phones. It may end up being the only true snapshot of our lives that remains after we’re gone, because war has a way of revealing who we really are, even if it’s not always a pleasant realization.

Should we consider the time of war as lost? Definitely yes. It is not a time for making plans and dreams, nor is it a time for personal desires and unrestrained teenage freedom. Russian aggression has drawn a threatening line around the borders of Ukraine, confining us to the claustrophobic space of war, making it difficult to breathe freely. It forces us to take stock of ourselves, as if under the watchful eye of intrusive neighbors, whom we would rather ignore. Yet, instead of being afraid, we stand firm and hold our ground within this perimeter.

Should we consider the time of war to be filled to the brim? Yes, definitely. Every moment in war seems to be imbued with a weight and substance that can almost be touched. Events unfold so quickly and densely that it’s hard to capture them all. Our minds struggle to keep up, as though our fingers are unable to type fast enough and our memories are exhausted from trying to store all the details of our experiences. Yet, we still share our stories of war, passing them down to future generations as a way of grappling with the dust and ashes of conflict that have seeped into our daily lives and restless dreams, offering little solace or respite.

It feels as though the sparrows that used to chirp in the streets of Ukrainian cities, marking the passage of time between days and nights, weekdays and weekends, and holidays and workdays, have disappeared. In the past, losing track of the day of the week or date was seen as a sign of insanity, but now it’s a symptom of being unconscious. Our lives are now measured not by the calendar, but by the sound of shelling, the blare of air raid sirens, and the constant stream of devastating news. We only breathe a sigh of relief when we don’t have to count the number of dead men, women, and children. Each loss feels personal, as if we all know each other through a few handshakes, a few gestures of trust and faith that have become our new language.

The train of wartime ceaselessly continues onward, moving further from peace but closer to victory. Slowly at first, then faster and faster, like a never-ending day at the amusement park. However, the ability to control time, to count and calculate it, seems hopelessly lost. Once you board this train, all you can do is hope that one day you can finally get off. It all started with anticipation, and it will end the same way. Then a new era will begin, one that we know nothing about, and time will be counted anew.

Translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan