Kyiv region. Today our “gypsy camp” went to the Ivankiv district.
Kuhari. We have heard from friends on Facebook about a large family in this village who lost its dwelling. After a quick call, we loaded the car with a washing machine, dishes, clothes, and food — and went on.
After a couple of months, I was prone to think that I have seen it all, but here I was stupefied.
A completely destroyed yard. Three kids. The youngest, Vita, is two years old. Yehor is nine, and Yulia is fourteen.
“This is Fly.” The boy is coming towards us, showing his dog. “And those are our cats, Cricket and Kuzia. They are much alike. And that dog with one eye is not ours. He just follows us everywhere.”
Right next to the fence, we’re scrutinizing the shed made out of timber and wrapped with a polythene sheet.
“Where are your parents?”
“They left. Mom went to Ivankiv to get some documents done, and dad went to work, to the sawmill.”
We look around and can’t say a word. The only words on my mind — that’s brutal.
Here comes a woman who lives a few streets away.
“I’m a close friend of the family. I keep an eye on what is happening here.”
We bring in the goods, leaving them next to the shed. Kids are doing their best to help us.
“What does the local government say?”
“There was some commission here. But who knows when and how something will get fixed.”
“But it’s impossible to live here!”
“Well, we do live here.”
Yulia hugs the cat and her younger sister simultaneously. Yehor carries things and from time to time runs to the kitchen to stir some food on the stove.
“And the neighbours have just finished building it before the invasion,” says the woman, pointing at the destroyed building with a summer kitchen and a room above. “Now it all went down the drain.”
The kids are having fun with Olenka. The youngest girl is playing with candies. I go outside and, in a few meters, I stumble over a fresh grave. A smiling face looking at me from the monument. My namesake. Died in the fight during the village liberation.
“Just a few days ago his fellows erected the monument,” a man who was mowing the grass nearby told me. “There was a fight, and some missiles hit us here and a little farther. Some houses are smashed to pieces now. It hit him badly. No chances to survive — that’s what the doctor said. And the second soldier got seriously wounded.”
I come back to the kids at the remains of their house.
“My telephone burned down,” the woman continues her story. “Forgot it at their place, thought that I’d pick it up later. And then — bang! First, it hit the yard, then the barn and the hayloft caught on fire. My husband broke the window and threw the kids through it.
The kids’ telephones also burned down.
“The telephones are nothing. But the documents burnt down too. We were sure we’d taken them when the house was on fire, but we never found them later.”
We realize that this is another family we will have to return to. But also we need to draw the attention of the local government to it.
“Well, kids, see you later.”
“Come visit us!” they say, waving at us.
Sloboda Kuharska. Our old friends Halia and Volodia who used to live in Moskvych.
“Some Americans came to our village. They made sure we get the electricity. So we did. Volodia had already built the walls of the makeshift house. Now we only need to figure out where to get the windows and doors.”
“Did you receive a call from the Ministry of Social Policy? Because they asked for your phone number,” I ask.
“No, not yet.”
The villagers are coming to us. Taking the things needed. We give a slow cooker to Halia so that she could make bread.
“That’s something we could use for sure. I already had a conflict here, you know. We went to the center, and a guy asked us why the hell we came here because we are registered in Moskvych, and that’s where we live. He said we should seek volunteer help there. Volodia was on the verge of kicking his butt. I barely stopped him.”
It’s hot outside. We wash our faces with the water from the well.
“Wait, I’ll give you some cold kompot [a non-alcoholic fruit beverage — Ed.], it’s tasty”, says the host. “Savoury-sweet. Made out of cherry plum and cornelian cherry.”
A green wall of vegetation is sheltering the destroyed village. The cherry trees bore abundant fruit in the middle of the ashes.
“It’s the first year they bear fruit like that. Unbelievable.” Volodia is shaking his head. “That is the first harvest during the war.”
On our way back we visit Oleksandr who helped museum workers gather the remnants of phosphoric bombs and other “gifts” of the russian world.
“Guys from the State Emergency Service didn’t give us back everything there was — they took some stuff for neutralization.”
“Well, that’s life.”
“Yep. It is how it is. You want some coffee?”
“With pleasure. We’ve even got some ice cream.”
Finally, we are on the way back home. I can still feel the taste of those fresh cherries. And I can’t get out of my mind those children of the war from the shed.
And that means soon we will be on the road again.
Ukrainian Text by Ruslan Gorovyi, translated into English by Ukrainianvancouver team — Jul 5, 2022