Essays On War

Yevhen Polozhiy. Metamorphoses


The first missile always strikes at night, regardless of its target – a power plant, a military base, an airfield, a school, a high-rise building, or even an empty snow-covered field. It strikes the heart with a piercing force and nails you to the floor. Then, countless others follow, equally as deadly. Hundreds, thousands of missiles, each causing unbearable pain. But that first missile remains etched in our hearts, leaving an indelible mark. No remedies can heal or even alleviate that pain; before the first missile, we were all defenseless peaceful people who had never experienced war.

Now, guided by that first missile like a starting pistol, we measure the distance to the last one – the finish line, hypothetically placed on the border with the enemy, but its exact location is unknown in both space and time. It is an unknown, incomprehensible path that none of us have yet had to overcome. Without undergoing a profound transformation, no Ukrainian person can traverse this path.

Death is the fastest and most profound metamorphosis of all. Since the morning of February 24, tens of thousands of people have died, and many continue to die even as you read these words. Each of them had their own distance from the first missile to the final moments of their life. For some, it was a mere ten meters from the border to a dugout in Sumy Oblast, while for others, it was one hundred meters from the ninth floor to the basement in Mariupol. And for some, it was a thousand kilometers from Poland to the front lines.

Yet those who remain alive continue to march forward as a united people, unwavering in their refusal to compromise with the enemy, united in their hatred and desire for victory. They are more united now than ever before. This second, unexpected metamorphosis – from discord to unity – has helped them overcome the uncertain, sometimes seemingly endless, path ahead.

But there is no other.

On this path, it is not the enemy that torments us. Our conscience is tormenting us:

Every day we reproach ourselves: „We are not doing enough. We must do much more in order to win!“

When you are abroad, your conscience gnaws at you because you are not in Ukraine.

When you are in Ukraine, your conscience gnaws at you for not being at the front.

When you’re at the front, your conscience gnaws at you because you haven’t killed the enemy yet.

When you’ve killed an enemy, you’re guilty of killing too few enemies.

When you’ve killed a lot of enemies, you feel guilty for not killing them all.

If they kill you, your conscience will gnaw at you because you died before Putin.

The conscience of the nation is now embodied not in a circle of intellectuals, but in the nation itself. This is the third metamorphosis.

In the modern sense, a nation is a passionate group of people with different nationalities, religions, skin colors, and preferences who are united by shared values and ready to defend them. For thirty years, it was believed that Ukraine did not have such a group of conscious people. It was believed that there were only political, oligarchic, and criminal groups and very few heroes who were willing to risk their lives for their country. Many assumed those who went to the Anti-Terrorist Operation Zone since 2014 were only there to make money.

However, the first missile and all the subsequent ones that hit on February 24th, 2022, magically transformed ordinary people into heroes and Ukrainian citizens into united people. No one ever dreamed of killing others, and nobody has ever wanted to spend their life at risk every waking moment in a trench. But cruel necessity and the lack of an honest alternative left them with no choice. And so, peaceful people turned into soldiers and officers whose task is to survive and kill those who want to kill them. This was the fourth metamorphosis that transformed ordinary people into soldiers fighting for their country’s survival.

Others remained ordinary people: farmers, journalists, doctors, rescue workers, and energy workers, all doing what they could and even more so as volunteers. However, each of us has changed regarding our rhythm of life, place of residence, profession, or preferences, all to remain on the path to victory with the most negligible losses and greatest benefit. The recipe for a prosperous society during wartime remains the same: everyone must find their solid place in the state’s defense system. If everyone is raising money for drones, who will transfer the money? People in place always make the difference in favor of victory. This is the fifth metamorphosis – the daily striving for better quality.

The sixth metamorphosis is quite simple – our anti-aircraft defense, which previously didn’t even shoot during training, learned to shoot down 100% of the enemy missiles within days. Our artillery became efficient in destroying enemy warehouses and barracks. Our infantry learned how to hold cities, and our tankers mastered turning enemy tanks into scrap metal. Our pilots learned how to destroy air and ground targets, and the list goes on. The past year has shown that our people are skilled and suitable for military affairs.

Between 1991 and 2022, it was widely believed that the Ukrainian state’s main goal was to ensure its citizens‘ well-being and create a civilized society. However, the results can be evaluated differently in light of the ongoing war. In truth, we did not live so badly. Yet, the vision of a civilized society and its various components, such as justice, freedom, and solidarity remain the central narratives of Ukraine’s future. These metamorphoses await those who survive until the end of the war. Despite the destruction of the Antonov An-225 Mriya airplane, the dream of a free and prosperous Ukraine remains unbroken, as evidenced by the country’s history and language.

A global strategic change is taking shape from these and other metamorphoses and metaphors. Ukraine, once seen as a country situated between Europe and Asia, the European Union, and the Russian Empire – a transit and buffer zone – has now emerged as a state with five historically important civilizational missions:

– to destroy as many living and non-living forces of Russian fascism as possible;

– to save as many Ukrainian children, women and elderly people as possible;

– to document and publicize the atrocities of Russian fascism;

– to attract as many allies as possible to the side of the civilized world; and

– to win. 

The world will surely undergo changes, but whether the pendulum will swing towards the light or the dark side depends on the accuracy of our actions, the quality of those changes, and the timeliness of our rotations.

Translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan