I’m not afraid anymore
As a child, I was afraid of nothing except spiders and war.
The former seemed too ugly and incomprehensible to me. As for war, I never romanticized it and associated the word with death and destruction even back in school.
However, I must confess that I was even more afraid of spiders back then. It seemed like they could sense my fear, so they constantly tested me, appearing in the most unexpected places before my childlike eyes. I would run away from them until one day I had to confront my fear head-on. I was fourteen years old, left alone at home on the weekend, and in the evening, I saw my enemy – a spider, big and terrifying – in the hallway. It seemed to be waiting for me, knowing that I couldn’t sleep while it was in my house. I cried for half the night over that spider. And then I took it out of the house and never thought about it again.
The first fear was overcome then. The second came for me much later.
When the phone rang around 6 am in February, I answered sleepily already knowing what I would hear on the other end. War had entered my world eight years ago, and now, big and terrible, it stood very close. I heard its explosions outside my window.
And I became scared. I was already an adult, but I became very scared.
From that moment on, I looked at my life as if from the outside for a long time. Even now, recalling the first months of the war, I see them as separate episodes – as if in a movie, in which we somehow became the main characters.
On the first day of the war, the siren wails and I run to the shelter, suddenly realizing that the sound makes my teeth chatter terribly. I feel like everyone around me can see it and I’m embarrassed, so I press my chin with my hand so that no one notices my fear. I don’t yet know that from now on my body will always react to the siren this way.
Here I am descending into a large basement and seeing there, together with people, several dozen dogs and cats. I have a strong allergy to them. I look deep into this basement and think that if I die here now, it will not be from a bomb, but from suffocation. However, powerful pills save me and I stay in this shelter for the night, in the midst of a frightened crowd of people and animals.
Here I am washing dishes in one of the headquarters where we have just fed our soldiers. There are many of them and much to wash, and I am focusing on this routine work, trying to forget that my world is broken. Suddenly, the volunteer Liza – delicate, small, with huge naive eyes – brings me gloves for washing dishes with the words: „You have such a nice manicure, it would be a shame if you ruined it.“ Where did she even get gloves from? I think to myself: How it can even matter now? But I put on the gloves, and Liza is satisfied.
Then we carry big pots to a restaurant nearby, where the owner prepares food for the soldiers. We walk through my favorite street in the capital, and I’m scared because I’ve never seen Kyiv so empty. The next week, it becomes even emptier. And for me, another sound of this war becomes the rattling of suitcase wheels, with which individual residents of Kyiv hurry to the station, because they finally made the decision to leave.
Here I finally decide to stay. Although I’m still very scared.
„Do you know if this is going to end soon?“ An old man who we brought groceries asks me. He takes care of his very old mother, and they will not leave anywhere. He looks at us with hope, as if waiting for us to tell him something good. But I answer honestly: „I don’t know“.
I didn’t know a lot of things back then.
I don’t know how many cities and villages will be destroyed to the last house, to the last brick.
I still don’t know how many of my friends and acquaintances will die.
I don’t know that after the news about Bucha I will cry and cry all night for the first time since the beginning of the war, thinking that I will never be able to stop. I don’t know what will happen to Izium or other cities.
Then I still don’t know that one day, reading my poem about the deceased on stage, I will freeze and won’t be able to say a word. Because my friend, who lost her fiancé in the war, will be sitting in the front row.
I still don’t know that somehow after the performance, a young girl will come up to me and ask me to sign her book with the words: „This is already your second book for me. The first one burned down with our house.“ And I won’t know what to say to her in response.
I still don’t suspect how joyful and painful it will be to see a change in phone numbers to foreign ones. Joyful, because you know that your friends and their children are safe. Painful, because you don’t know if you will ever see them again.
I don’t yet know that, six months into the war, I will be scared by the roar of a plane in the center of Warsaw and awkwardly turn my head to see it and make sure it’s not an enemy one. And then someone will tell me that Ukrainian women abroad can often be recognized by their reaction to the sound of planes.
But even then, in the first days of the great war, I know that my fear will pass. It will dissolve in the silence of the spiked-up Kyiv, in the darkness of camouflage, in every anxious and valuable „How are you?“ And then fear will give way to cold fury and hatred that will give strength in the toughest moments. And it will disappear faster every time I see the best, special people working on the front lines and in the rear – focused and tireless, holding onto each other, not allowing despair and discouragement.
I know that I’m not alone at home anymore. And we will all together sweep this war out of our house.
That’s why I’m not afraid anymore.
Translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan