Essays On War

This war is forever — you hear, Sofi? Khrystia Vengryniuk

This war is forever–you hear, Sofi?

I tried to start writing this text several times, but inevitably I always got stuck, and the hours passed me by… Usually, it happened at night when no one was around to notice how I was turning into an immobile pillar of salt. My eyes fill with hot tears that pour down my face, only to repeat again. During that time, there was a mirage in front of me: It was a small, naked three-year-old girl with her hands tied behind her back. She was killed by Russian occupants in Kharkiv region during the first weeks of war. And behind her, an endless film of footage begins to roll: a boy in a blue blanket, only one-year-old, his sobbing parents standing over him; the yellow-green body of a baby in a diaper in the basement; and three girls near a house in Mariupol, who were killed by a shell a few days later. I see the four sons of the photographer Max Levin, who was tortured to death near Bucha. Today the young boys are left without a father. Still, I’m haunted by the images of little children who were raped by Russian occupants, some of them unable to walk yet; then there are Liza’s thin legs with sneakers–the girl was killed by a rocket in Vinnytsia. And lest we forget the strollers at the Kramatorsk train station…

In February, when the whole world was talking only about the fact that Russia would attack Ukraine, I was in Chernivtsi, and my husband Ivo was in Sofia. He is Bulgarian, but he was hastening to return to Ukraine before the war broke out, so they could let him pass through the border, and we could be together. He made it. They let him in with surprise, thinking he was nuts for not staying in Bulgaria; the situation was unpredictable here.

Then the war began.

We knew neither what to expect nor what to do. I wanted to stay in Ukraine and help as much as possible, but one crucial nuance made me doubt myself: I was 9 months pregnant. The enemies were already circling Kyiv. Now we can say that it is relatively safe in Chernivtsi, and there is no reason to flee, but at that time, no one knew this, and even the people of Chernivtsi left abroad en masse.

I have just received a notification in one reliable news group from the front: “Shooting of a car convoy in Kharkiv region: Russians killed at least 20 people, 10 of which were children.”

It is not pain or despair anymore but a solid hole filled to the brim with grief. The greatest sorrow of the world: the daily murders of innocent children. Several hours passed, and I again hung over reality and tried to return to words, but they seemed to be gone; none were left. Pain kills the best in us first. The words. The words…

Another news update arrived: “Police have determined the number of victims of the attack on the convoy: a pregnant woman and 13 children are among the dead.”

I continue to write the following day because I simply could not do so before. I am still looking for answers to dozens of questions: How can it be that in the eighth month of the war, children, women, and pregnant women continue to be killed…? Why didn’t this news spread worldwide like any other terrorist attack? Why can’t the world stop this? The information knocks me off my feet and out of my thoughts. I cannot possibly return to writing, but I will try.

We stayed in Chernivtsi and bought hemostatic drugs, suture material, scalpels, and strong painkillers in ampoules from the hospital pharmacies. I remembered what was needed on the front from volunteering back in 2014. It was gray and eerie on the streets; wet snow covered everything around, cars were standing in endless traffic jams for fuel, everything was closed, and sirens blared. The baby was constantly woken up by this howling. She kicked inside me as if wanting to come out–as if she was also afraid or felt my restlessness. I stroked my daughter and asked her to forgive me because she did not even have time to be born but already knew what fear and sadness were. I promised her that everything would be better when she was already on this side of the world, and that we would have time to overcome this evil before her arrival.

Sofi is now 6 months old, and I still haven’t fulfilled my promise–we cannot, and no one can… We can reclaim our territories, put the occupiers into body bags piece by piece, and chase them out of our lands like Colorado beetles or cockroaches, but we cannot protect our children. Our enemies are so despicable that they have one wish: to rape, torture, and kill those weaker than them.

“What world did I invite you into, daughter?!” I often ask out loud, kissing her little fingers, horror overcoming me. When asked about my war experience, I sincerely answer: I never knew such evil existed in this world. It is simply limitless and unimaginable and has nothing to do with the word “human.” I was sure that all the most terrible things remained forever in history textbooks, in memories of the Holocaust and the Holodomor, that humanity had changed, liberated, and purified itself. I could not imagine that there was such a big difference between ordinary people and the Russian occupants. We have absolutely nothing in common, not a single thing. It is a terrible and painful experience that has made us all old and our children gray-haired.

So, where does that leave us? There is an extraordinary amount of love for each other, faith, respect, and pride in our people and our Homeland. But there are also millions of broken families, traumatized souls, and countless deaths–pain, pain, and still more pain. The most important thing is to never forget! My daughter received her first important life lesson when I told her that the world consists of people and Russian occupants. I don’t know what she understood from it, but I repeat and remind her to grow up with this knowledge, as essential as brushing her teeth or putting on shoes. If we forgive, forget, and swallow it again, as in 2014, our children will have to live through the same things we are going through now; only they will play the leading roles. This evil never sleeps, so our descendants must be constantly ready for everything. Unlike us, who neglected the words of Taras Shevchenko, Mykola Khvylovy, and Vasyl Stus and missed, overlooked, and underestimated them.

When we accept the terrible understanding that this war is forever, we will feel immediately relieved and can get used to the circumstances, learn to exist with it, live, and even be happy. No one will ask us then: “Why is it happening to us, Ukrainians?” because the realization that you have been chosen to fight against the greatest evil takes away fear forever. And yes, we are the only people with the power to suppress this two-headed demon. Just close your eyes for a moment and imagine a world without them… It’s beautiful, isn’t it?! That is why we raise our heads and stand on solid legs, full of confidence and zeal, with faith in victory, and enter the battle again.


Translated by Yulia Lyubka, Kate Tsurkan