Essays On War

Lesyk Panasiuk. A Boot Full of Water

A Boot Full of Water

In my dreams, a sudden explosion rocked me as I finally arrived home and entered the apartment. It was a small antipersonnel mine, a similar one had been found by our neighbors in their home slippers. I was engulfed in a fog and struggled to see through it. When the haze cleared, I was shocked to discover that I had lost a leg. Panic set in as I frantically tried to figure out how to stop the bleeding, but to my surprise, there was no blood anywhere. It appeared that my stump had already healed.

Leaning against the wall for support, I immediately started searching for a prosthesis on my phone. I was filled with a sense of excitement, similar to what I would feel when buying a bicycle. After much consideration, I finally settled on what I believed to be the best model.

When I woke up, I was elated to find that my lost leg had been replaced with a new one. I moved my muscles tentatively, reveling in the feeling of its continued existence. As I lay there, my mind became consumed with the thought of that dream.

At that moment, I realized that I was no longer afraid. The fear of mutilation or death no longer haunted me, and everything became easier.

With newfound confidence, I purchased tickets to return home that day.


As I stepped off the bus and surveyed my surroundings, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It felt as though I had been transported into a poorly replicated version of my city. Although everything was in its proper place, the lack of people and the disarray of the environment made it seem like a completely different world. The streets were littered with debris and potholes, and the roads bore the telltale marks of tank tracks in cuneiform inscriptions, like some primitive writing.

Those tank tracks were a constant reminder of what had happened in Bucha and were impossible to ignore. Even if I tried to avert my gaze from the destroyed and burned homes, the fallen trees and lampposts, or the shattered traffic lights and road signs, the tank tracks were always underfoot, etched into the very pavement of pedestrian streets.

Although the city would undoubtedly recover over time, the lingering traces of war would continue to whisper their reminders. They served as a persistent nudge, forcing us to remember that we could never become complacent and that the war was never far from our thoughts.

As I made my way slowly through our district, it was clear that war had ravaged it. The damage caused by the Russian soldiers was evident everywhere, and our own home resembled a constellation of holes in the sky, a cosmic and bitter sight to behold.

I couldn’t help but notice the Latin letter that had been painted near the non-functioning elevator on the first floor, which had been filled with stolen items up to the third floor. I remembered how we had carried our belongings up to the eighth floor on our own when we first moved in, as the elevator was out of order then, too.

Now, as I headed to take out the garbage, I felt a sense of calm. I knew that no more Russian soldiers were lurking in the stairwells, but I couldn’t be sure about any potential „gifts“ they may have left behind in the apartment.

I had promised my relatives that I would call the sappers working in Bucha, but I knew deep down that I wouldn’t. I didn’t want to risk someone losing a limb or worse because of my call. I later found out that the sappers who had come to my friends‘ homes had searched for dangerous objects with their bare hands, without any protective equipment. It was as if they were petting a cute dog in the middle of an apartment, unable to resist the temptation of interacting with something so fascinating.

I first fixed the broken door using mounting foam when I entered the room. It was closed, just as we had left it on February 24. Carefully, I stepped over piles of clothes, books, walls, doors, glass, electronics, and all kinds of debris scattered across the floor. It was like trying to avoid stepping in puddles, fearful of getting my boots soaked.

I accidentally kicked something on the ground as I approached the window, triggering a minor explosion amidst the clutter. Finally reaching the panoramic window, I looked out at the devastation below. Crushed storefront boxes, burnt-out car skeletons, and the spot where a body had once lain came into view. It was a stark reminder of the damage inflicted by war.

I recalled the last time I gazed out this window, watching a fighter jet darting low like a swallow through the pouring rain. The weather was so severe here that we had to cover all the holes in the window with film to prevent further damage.

But I couldn’t bear to face the reality of the destruction below anymore. It was too overwhelming, and I had to walk away.

I sat in a chair and stared at the chaos around me for a long while. It felt as though our apartment had been violated, as if our previous life, dreams, and plans had been brutally scattered across the floor.

As I began to clean up the apartment, I had no idea how much easier it would become with time. But for now, I found solace in the fact that our books had survived the occupation, albeit a bit dirty and warped. And our cynicism had also endured. Although we donated several tens of kilograms of clothes to a charity shop at the start of 2022, plenty remained.

I remembered the day we had watched the Hostomel airport burning outside our window on February 24. You had remarked that, as intelligent people, we should clean up and put things away, and we had even managed to wash some clothes and hang them up to dry. Looking back now, this memory brought a smile to my face. Our clothes retained their previous scent despite the traces of Russian boots, as the constant drafts could not air it out. It was a small comfort that helped us hold on.

However, as I continued to clean, I noticed an abundance of bird fluff and droppings scattered throughout the apartment. It almost felt like I was back in a nest. Little did I know that a pigeon was hiding in the closet, which had settled there during our absence. It would take me a while to shoo it out, but when it finally flew out of the window, it was incredibly beautiful, like a dove leaving the ark. I couldn’t help but wonder when it would return with a twig in its beak.

Among the scattered items on the kitchen table, I noticed an old Zenit camera with a torn lens, which still contained the undeveloped film from our wedding. It was a painful reminder that even our cherished memories had been stolen. Underneath the shattered glass, I could make out a heart-shaped piece of paper, which had been gifted to you by one of your students at the school here in Bucha. It was inscribed with the words „Happiness, inspiration, love.“

Today, everything seemed to hold a deeper symbolism, as if the bitterness and sorrow of our situation had taken on a cosmic significance.

Translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan