Essays On War

Vakhtang Kebuladze. The Blood of Our Children

The Blood of Our Children

The village of Bezruky is located 15 kilometers from the Russian border in the Derhachi district of Kharkiv region. Despite its proximity to the evil empire, the village was fortunate to avoid falling under occupation. However, a Russian tank column did enter the village as it made its way to Kharkiv. And the shelling there was terrible–the Russians bombarded this peaceful village with banned phosphorus munitions and general-purpose bombs.

Only surrealistic memories of shelling with phosphorus munitions remain, like the small fires burning all around the village and in the forest. The locals tried to put them out to stop the fire from spreading. Extinguishing the small flashes of light, those harbingers of death, was hard work. White lights lit up the surroundings like snowballs in the middle of summer, giving the impression that children had not finished making snowballs in the winter. But in reality, these flashing lights were a cruel reminder of the Russian evil that robbed them of their childhood games and peace. The white lights, though seeming like a sign of hope in the darkness of the night, were actually just deceptive flashes of the cruel world of death under Russian rule.

The damage caused by shrapnel is still visible. Low-trajectory shrapnel kills all living things, leaving a trail of destruction in its path. The village church’s fence bears the impact’s scars with its broken, twisted, and melted metal bars. The metal resembles dried wounds on living flesh, while the church’s windows have been shattered and are now covered with makeshift wooden boards.

Opposite the church stands a monument honoring the soldiers who liberated Ukraine from German Nazis during the Second World War. It, too, has been partially destroyed by Russian shelling, clearly demonstrating how the twenty-first-century Russian Nazis distort and erase the memory of those who fought against twentieth-century Nazism, revealing their true anti-human character behind the lies of their propagandists. It becomes evident what the Russians mean when they say they „can repeat.“ They aim to repeat genocide, but this time it is the genocide of the Ukrainian people, and, in the future, all the free peoples of Europe if we don’t stop them here.

A small, private house stands near the church, its walls pockmarked from shrapnel. An eight-year-old girl named Rita was killed on the porch of this house during one of the Russian attacks. Her relatives found her tiny, mutilated body next to her wounded aunt, Yulia, who died in the hospital from her injuries a week later. The two had fled from the yard to take shelter in the house, but they were too late. The shrapnel from a Russian missile found them as they stood on the threshold of their own home.

Rita was seated in a small chair near the house, absorbed in a book. Yulia was hanging freshly-washed laundry on ropes in the yard nearby. It was just another day during the war, and they were accustomed to the sound of Russian bombs. They knew that if an attack began, they should head to the cellar just a few meters from the house. It was equipped with everything they needed to wait out the danger: beds, blankets, candles, matches, basic provisions, and well water. Why did they run in the opposite direction? Perhaps it was because the bombs were coming from that side. After all, Russia was on that side, and so were evil and death. Would they have survived if they had run to the cellar? Who knows. That didn’t happen. Instead, they sought refuge inside the house, but as soon as they stepped onto the porch, they were struck by shrapnel and fell.

Alla is the one who recounts the story. Rita was her granddaughter, and Yulia was her daughter. Her husband stands quietly to the side, his swarthy face expressionless. He says nothing as if he has lost the ability to speak. His dark eyes are full of never-ending sadness. Although he is Bulgarian, it doesn’t matter. All the children killed by the Russians belong to us, and the blood of our children ties us together in a bond that can never be broken.

Alla’s house was close by, so they arrived quickly. They saw Rita and Yulia covered in blood on the porch. Rita’s father scooped her up and carried her to the car while they carried Yulia. It was difficult and they moved too slowly. He cried out, „Faster! My child is dying,“ not yet realizing that she was already dead. Everyone climbed into the car and raced to the hospital, trying to stop the bleeding from Rita and Yulia’s wounds with their hands. They desperately tried to save them, but time was not on their side.

Alla recounts the devastating story of losing her closest loved ones, her daughter and granddaughter. Every time she tries to speak of it, she pauses, sighs, and says, „It’s difficult, very difficult.“ She mentions how she once quit smoking, but these days, she finds herself smoking two packs a day, aware of the harm it causes. As she speaks of her granddaughter, memories of her visits and loving words flood back, „Grandma, you are the best!“ Now, those words will never be spoken again, and Alla just wants it all to end. She doesn’t want anyone else to die such horrible deaths–not even the Russians. Despite her suffering, she does not seek revenge. She lost those most precious to her and knows what that means. Though simple and commonly heard, her words sound as if some otherworldly teacher taught them to soothe the unbearable pain of loss and prevent the universal catastrophe that awaits us.

Can new, unknown words be found to express the endless horror and infinite sadness? Are we destined for banality when it comes to true evil? Can we ever overcome it and forget? The answer is a resounding no. Alla gazes at the clean porch, the site where the Russians took her daughter’s and granddaughter’s lives, the porch stained with their blood on that fateful day. In a quiet, measured tone, she speaks the painful, precise, and piercing words, „I washed away the blood of my children!“ This tragedy will never be forgotten and will remain with us forever.

The autumn evening falls silent.

The low sun illuminates everything in clear view, and the stillness of the evening amplifies every sound. A Ukrainian village scarred by Russian violence, the dark gaze of a Bulgarian man, a porch freshly cleaned of locals’ blood, and the haunting words of a Ukrainian mother, „I washed away the blood of my children!“

Translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan