Essays On War

Maryana Savka. I Love You, Dad

I Love You, Dad

This spring, I lacked the energy to get involved in my publishing house’s matters. Instead, I focused on searching for life-saving medicine at drugstores and sending boxes of supplies to Kharkiv. This simple task gave my life a sense of purpose. The TV news, meanwhile, was broadcasting almost 24 hours a day about the heavy losses suffered by the orcs, which I heard from my parents‘ bedroom.

Their losses did not upset me. I saw that my dad would not survive this war.

Twice a week, my husband and I brought him to the hemodialysis ward at the hospital for treatment.

Whenever we wheeled him into the hemodialysis ward, he would hand me his jacket and delicately remove his hat. That hat was his constant companion, which he never left behind or ventured out without. As we entered the ward, my father greeted everyone warmly, inquiring about their well-being. There were many new faces from the east — from Mariupol, Izyum, and Voznesensk, mostly Russian-speaking and wary of conversation. But my father always initiated friendly exchanges. The doctors were stretched thin with more patients, including the wounded. They brought in a young man who was virtually covered in wounds. The young intern calmly discussed his injuries. „Would you like to take a look?“ I eagerly examined the gruesome burns on the young man, who lay unconscious, his life and death in a delicate balance.

I’ve been cognizant for some time now that my father’s passing is inevitable. He’s getting up there in years and has been battling illness for quite a while, so it’s only a matter of time before it happens. Every time he returns from dialysis, he appears more and more like a shadow of his former self. His energy is waning, and it takes him longer to recover. My mother is becoming increasingly concerned, as she tries to coax him into eating something, anything, to nourish his weakening body.

Our yard was overrun with blooming magnolias as the spring and war raged on. From the windows of our house, we often watched as missile strikes lit up the sky. My friends in Kharkiv would occasionally give me tasks to complete, and I quickly found myself tasked with finding pickups for the front lines. I managed to secure two in no time. The news was grim; the fighting in Azovstal continued, and among the fighters was Kateryna Polishchuk, the daughter of my father’s friend. Kateryna was also a talented actress in my father’s Suzirya Theater, one of the youngest in the company. We all wondered what would become of her and everyone else in the face of such uncertainty.

„Mom, why are my grandparents and I considered children of the war, but you’re not?“ my seven-year-old son asked me. My parents were wondering the same thing. The Second World War and Soviet rule had left their mark on their families, but now in their old age, they found themselves in another war, this time with the Russian invaders. They feared that their age would prevent them from surviving this conflict.

As summer approached, my father started making plans to return to Ternopil. Every day he would say, „We’re going home.“ Despite my concerns, he seemed in better spirits and was driven by an unshakable force to return home, where he believed „the walls would heal“ him. He deeply missed his theater and had been dreaming of putting on a play about Roman Shukhevich for years but had been unable to get back on his feet.

While all this was happening, I was busy searching for and collecting funds for another car.

Mom called me in a panic, telling me that dad had been admitted to the hospital with fluid in his lungs and that the doctors were unable to do much for him. I rushed to the city where my parents lived, a place that had never truly felt like mine since I had not lived or studied there; they had moved there from the town where my brother and I were born when I was already living in Lviv. But I had always cherished my visits, mainly because of the stunning view of the lake from our ninth-floor apartment. The city was magnificent during this time of year, with irises blooming everywhere. We stayed with dad in the hemodialysis ward. Despite his need for oxygen from time to time, he remained in good spirits and often spoke about love. He talked about his beloved wife and the passions of his youth, as well as the actors and actresses he held so dear. At the time, Kateryna was still being held captive. With a dreamy smile, dad spoke fondly of her, saying, „She’s quite the character, you know. She loved me. She once told a young boy who visited the theater with her to act like Orest Ivanovych and to look into his eyes.“ As I hugged dad, I occasionally checked my phone for news updates. The fighting near Lysychansk and Siverskodonetsk was fierce, and my friend was on the front lines. This unpredictable and chaotic conflict was also causing my heart to ache.

Meanwhile, Ulyana and her six-year-old daughter had already made their way to Poland to purchase a car. I promised to be there in case of any unexpected issues. Ivanna and I were sipping coffee in Krakow’s city center, waiting to meet up with Ulyana, who had already driven 600 km, when my brother called to deliver the devastating news: Dad was unconscious. We quickly headed to the volunteer warehouse to load up the pickup truck with essential items, including a Starlink for the military, a baby bath for a displaced mother, and various other supplies. Amidst all the things, six-year-old Veronica, the fearless navigator, sat like a princess on a pea.

As we waited in the long line at the border, I ran to the Polish border patrol guard, begging him to let us cross quickly as my father was dying. But my pleas fell on deaf ears. In the end, Ulyana stepped out of the driver’s seat, „Get back in the car. You don’t know how to negotiate,“ she said. I don’t know what she told the border patrol guard, but we were immediately allowed to cross the border.

That same evening I was already at my dad’s side. He did not regain consciousness; his hands were twitching. I lay down next to him and hugged him. „I love you very much,“ I repeated endlessly.

In the morning, we took him home because there was no point in leaving him in the hospital. My mom, brother, and I spent almost two days with him until he left this world. I was holding his hand when it happened. It was like a form of reconciliation. And great trust. And love. And that gave me the strength to keep going.

Although strength does not mean that I remain calm and unmoved. Sometimes I just roar with grief and say, „I love you, Dad.“


Translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan