Essays On War

To a son. Andriy Khayetsky

To a Son

      I was sitting facing the sea and looked at the utterly clear horizon line, where even in springtime, one could see the outlines of enemy ships that kept the city in their crosshairs. These days, one can occasionally see dry cargo ships on the roadstead heading to the port either with goods or to pick them up. The horizon line was unoccupied that evening. Only the tranquil, placid pre-autumnal sea, the direct access to which was blocked by a red and white warning tape.

        I cannot recall precisely when this need to come to the sea and stare into its deep water for some time before every important step in life emerged.  It was not so much for the sake of making a thoughtful decision as it was to imbue myself with strength and the sea breeze of what had already been determined.

          A few hours before that, my elder brother called me and said: “Autumn is coming soon, they need a normal car. It looks like we found a suitable option. Can we ask people to help?”

              My brother is constantly in touch with his eldest son who went off to fight in the war. During one of their short conversations, my brother learned that their unit’s car had almost no brakes and was generally not in the best condition. A new car was found immediately. The only question that remained was obtaining the money to pay for it.

            Sitting facing the sea, I thought that the term “communal work” has always seemed appealing to me in both its sounding and in meaning – particularly in the sense of joint work for the sake of achieving a common result. Since my childhood, which I spent in a small village, I watched how memorial meals or, on the contrary, festive tables were prepared and set together. Neighbors helped each other in difficult situations, even if they were at odds over some trifles. This superpower seems to be embedded in Ukrainians at the genetic level. That is why during the Revolution of Dignity, people gave everything they could to support the protest on the Maidan. That is why in 2014, during the first months of the war, Ukrainians literally rebuilt the army from ruins.

                  That is why, since the first day of the full-scale invasion in February 2022, Ukrainians have rallied like bees and divided aid tasks amongst themselves. Everyone has their own role, place, and task in this war. Vivid examples of this include stories from the cities, towns, and villages, where local residents practically stopped convoys of enemy vehicles with their bare hands. There’s also stories about street battles between enemy soldiers and simple accountants and drivers from the Territorial Defense Units in the central market of a southern village; burning enemy equipment with self-made Molotov cocktails; and removing batteries and draining fuel from stopped combat vehicles. Listening to these stories, you understand that our people are the salt of this earth. We are people who come together when it matters most.

  I have always felt more natural around those who help others. My grandmother, who grew up during the hungry wartime years, once said that as a child, she’d promised herself she’d start working, earn enough money and not go hungry. This eventually turned into a cult of food in our family, with the primary goal being to feed everyone who entered our home. In my youth, I had a slightly different dream–to have the kind of income that would enable me to help others. Throughout my life, I’ve always tried to provide assistance to those who need it. And I do not consider my virtue to be unique. On the contrary–I truly believe that mutual support and mutual assistance is the only thing that will save us.

           At the same time, I’ve always been embarrassed to ask anyone for help. After my brother’s phone call, I sat on the seashore and reasoned with myself that, in this case, we would not be asking for personal assistance but for our defenders.

           My brother has not seen his son for over a year. Prayers in our family have intensified since February. Our 20-year-old boy became the personification of the entire army for us. The cost of the car was beyond our family’s means, so we started fundraising, not knowing how long it would take. We asked the seller to wait ten days, just in case. But on day four I’d already transferred the necessary sum to my brother. It was a kind of quintessence of Ukrainian mutual support: hundreds of bank transfers from all over the world in an incredibly short amount of time made it possible to purchase transport for the front. And I sincerely bow my head both to everyone who joined in on the fundraising effort, and to everyone who conducts such campaigns for the needs of the army on a daily basis: this is the secret to our stability.

       In a day and a half, my brother, who is an auto body painter by profession, fixed the car and declared without appeal: „I will drive it to the front myself.“ It was obvious that for him this trip meant something much bigger than the usual aid for our defenders. To my question: “What is this car for you?” he answered: “This is their house on wheels.” And with tears in his eyes, he added: “He just took my hand and held it in his own, telling me about something completely common for them. And all this time I just needed to feel him. And that’s all. Now I have calmed down.”

        On the way to the East, he said, he felt what real respect and support was. There were no delays at the roadblocks, drivers gave way to traffic lanes, and at one gas station, very close to their destination, a woman from a parked car thanked him by displaying her fingers in the shape of a heart.

    The last checkpoint had the longest document check. This was absolutely justified, because the front-line zone is a place where there are almost no civilians. To the question: “Where are you going?” he answered: “To my son.”

“Drive through,” he heard in reply.

Translated by Yulia Lyubka, Kate Tsurkan