I am patriarch Lubno. They say I am one thousand years old, but ye should not believe it! I am even older. Mammoths were roaming in my neighborhood at one time. Not only did I see Scythians come and go, but Sarmatians I saw also. Beyond my muddy-watered Sula, Prince Volodymyr would give the Cumans many a good hiding. Prince Jeremi Wiśniowiecki would burn my oaks for potash to make gunpowder and wage wars against Moscovia. What guests haven’t I welcomed, whose companionship haven’t I enjoyed! Currently, some neighbors are staying over at mine for a visit. Currently, I am catching my breath with them and, sometimes, for them. Do you know how it feels to breathe into the spring sky?
Here’s Kharkiv. It is morning, and he’s agitated. He tells me about the underground vaults. How do you like it, neighbor, this life in catacombs?
“That’s a different life completely. A world unlike our own. I bury myself into the ground. I put my children on the cold granite, and I listen. Right now, I’m listening to the subway tunnel roof quaking. Here come our volunteers—from station to station, from tunnel turn to tunnel turn. In a single file. Marching in step. They are headed for bread, and when they come back, the entire station of people—700 souls, no less—meets them with applause.”
Here’s Sumy. She is at night. She is in the cold. Taught by fear to stay low to the ground. To listen to the sky, but never trust it. They took her orphaned children to me. And here, above me, the air-raid alert wailed—and the children wailed back. They would run from the street, sparrow fledglings, they would be scattering and hiding under the parked cars. The children would scream in fear, and I would scream along with them.
Here’s Trostianets’. Timidly, he offers me some money for the dinner, but I’m just watching him, with a lump in my throat. I frown. I tell him I don’t need it. Looks like they just had their first hot meals in... how many days? Five? Ten? They can’t recall.
Here’s my railway station. Never before had I seen it so crowded. Two thousand people have to be accommodated in a single night. My residents bring boiling water in kettles, slice cold meats for sandwiches, and provide cookies. It starts in the afternoon and goes through the night. My quietude stirs in the worn-out women of Severia. Upon seeing a crate of apples, they burst into tears. They take those apples in their hands. They press them to their bosoms. Tears roll down their wrinkled faces, drip to be lost in their headscarves. I feel the urge to console them, tell them it's unnecessary. For a while, the tears stop.
… Only to start flowing once again. Each of the teardrops is like a droplet of rain, falling to the ground that has turned crimson.
Here I am—your Lubny. I’m sewing loadout vests, I’m looking for walkie-talkies. I’m on guard of the peace and quiet. I’m collecting warm clothes and gathering people. I’m cooking dinners and baking pyrizhky. I’m looking for lodgings for the night and medicines for the sick. I’m trying to walk towards light in the world so as not to lose myself in it. Children feed pigeons in my parks. It turns out these birds are so plentiful here! The three-hundred-year-old oaks are deeply rooted in my soil with memories and recollections. When I lose heart sometimes, I touch their bark and listen to the whispering.
“We’ve made it through two world wars, and we’ll make it through this one,” they murmur with their branches soon to be blooming with new life.
“We breathe,” echo the ancient wetlands of Posullia.
Breathe with me, World! Breathe and be alive.
April 5 at 12:27 p.m.
Ukrainian Text by Hanna Krevska, translated into English by Ukrainianvancouver team – Mar 25, 2022