At 5:51 my friend Tasia calls me. We drank until 2am in a shitty bar in Kiev, maybe I forgot to text her after I’m home and I’m fine? I guess the usual routine of all women in the world. “Nastenka, wake up,” she says. “It has started. The Russians fired rockets at Kyiv, Kharkiv and Lviv.”
I imagine it was the morning of all Ukrainians on February 24, 2022.
when the war started
A little history lesson: the Russo-Ukrainian war started in 2014. At that time I was… let me do the math: I’m the same age as my country, so I was 30, so I was 22 in 2014. So no I had seen the war: it took place in the east, in Donetsk and Luhansk, and I lived in the southeast, in the proud city of the Ukrainian Cossacks, Zaporizhia.
The Russians also tried to organize the so-called “Russian Spring” in my city, but failed: the residents threw eggs and flour at them (you can see in “яєчна неділя” pictures of that Google was amazing). And so my city never became “SNR”. But Donetsk and Luhansk became “DNR” and “LNR”, the so-called People’s Republics. And Russia occupied the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. You probably know all that.
I saw the war for the first time in 2019. I think it was in August. As a playwright I came to Popasna for the international project “Misto 2 Go”. He had seen frontline villages before, but unlike Popsana, the Ukrainian government had restored them. Located just three kilometers from the occupied territories, Popasna was heavily shelled in 2014. Some of the bullet holes can still be seen in the walls of the buildings.
We did a little tour of the city with Victor, the director of school number 1. “Here is a bus stop where a woman died from an artillery shelling, only her head was ripped off. There the Russians shot at a businessman’s car and also at him.”
That night I drank a lot but I couldn’t fall asleep. At midnight, the Russians began to shoot at the border with the “LNR”. It sounded like a machine gun. I lay on my bed and thought, “I want someone to care for me.”
As far away as possible?
How do you decide to run away? Well, at first you don’t do that. My friend Pasha texts me at 10 am: “There are still a few train tickets left for Western Ukraine. Buy them.” “Calm down, Pasha,” I reply. I think to myself: “Don’t tell me how to behave during a war.” I’m trying to eat but I can’t. I fill all the bottles and buckets in the apartment with water (just in case I wash my hair quickly – you don’t want to be in the shower when the siren goes off.
I take the tape and stick it on all the windows in my room. Then the kitchen (shit, why do we have such big windows?). My roommate, Marina, comes over to say hello. “Do you want duct tape for your bedroom windows?” I ask. “Yes. Probably,” she said.
Suitcase. How do you imagine an escape case? Mine is tiffany blue, I bought it two months ago – very cheap, only 960 hryvnia (about 30 euros). I drove it to Berlin and back, now it’s in a corner, full of medicine and energy bars (yes, I read the instructions for packing emergency kits, like all Ukrainians).
11 clock. I pack documents and warm clothes. Then I pack again. A plane flies over my house. Then one more.
[Alle aktuellen Nachrichten zum russischen Angriff auf die Ukraine bekommen Sie mit der Tagesspiegel-App live auf ihr Handy. Hier für Apple- und Android-Geräte herunterladen.]
12 o’clock. My friend Vika sends me a text message. She is in Lviv, four days ago she went there to study at the university. Ella’s husband Vova and her son Misha stayed in Kiev. “Do you want to come to us? The more the better. Vova plans to go to Lviv tomorrow. You have a seat in the car.” I say: Ok, good idea, I just have to go back to packing my suitcase one more time. And maybe do the dishes.
And tidy up the bed. And put on a little makeup. Finally, I hail a taxi (surprisingly, it still works) and I’m ready to go. I just have to say goodbye to my roommate. Although I work with words, somehow I can’t find any. And then the siren sounds.
A few days ago I saw a funny TikTok video. A man stares at his phone, more worried than confused. The caption reads: “When your friend from Kiev texts you at 4am saying ‘I love you.'” you understand, right?
Once we are in Lviv, I will cry and cry and cry, I tell myself as we leave Kiev on February 25. When I get to Lviv. But when we get there three days later, I don’t cry. There are also mermaids in Lviv. But instead of hiding in the basement of a 16-story building or in an old school, we hide in the basement of the Les Kurbas theater. Elegant.
On February 27 we are going with Vova to give one of the two cats that he and Vika brought here to good people. These people do not want to leave, they take care of the cat as long as necessary. Vova parks the car, grabs the cat’s basket, and leaves. I stay in the dark car and open the messages on my cell phone. The first report: Grad rockets hit the suburbs of Kharkiv. One building, then another, and then another. And other.
What does a Grad rocket sound like, someone asked my friend Kostia from Kharkiv in Facebook comments. It’s a very low, terrifying buzz, Kostia replied, you can’t mistake it for anything else.
And while we’re on the subject of love, I want to ask what its opposite is. The opposite of love. You don’t have to name it, but how would you describe it without naming it? I say that all Ukrainians feel that way about Russians now. And I think we will feel it for a long time. Maybe forever. (We should have felt it sooner).
Ukrainian Sky Diary
I have this application “Kyiv Digital” on my phone. It was developed to help Kievans buy digital tickets for public transport. Sometimes the app will also indicate when the internet is down for two to three hours.
What is he telling me now? Wednesday March 9:
4:37 am, air alert. Go to the shelter immediately.
6:01 am, air alert. Go to the shelter immediately.
6:21 am, end of flight alert. Follow more messages.
8:46 a.m., air alert. Go to the shelter immediately.
9:23 am End of air alert. Follow more messages.
10:32 am, air alert. Go to the shelter immediately.
11:06 am, end of flight alert. Follow more messages.
12:42, air alert. Go to the shelter immediately.
13:36, end of flight alert. Follow more messages.
1:43 p.m., air alert. Go to the shelter immediately.
14:13, end of flight alert. Follow more messages.
3:47 p.m., air alert. Go to the shelter immediately.
16:39, end of flight alert. Follow more messages.
18:48, air raid alarm: Head to shelter immediately.
20:07, end of flight alert. Follow more messages.
8:41 p.m., air alert. Go to the shelter immediately.
21:08, end of flight alert. Follow more messages.
11:58 p.m., air alert. Go to the shelter immediately.
Close the skies over Ukraine. That is my only point.
Translated from the English by Nadine Lange.