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The people we have not become

(a text for the Ukrainian magazine “Kraina”, latest issue)

For example, I am a twenty-seven years old man, and a month ago I was named the main music revelation of the continent. I love answering questions about the name of the thing I play. Soooo-piiil-kaaaa, I say. Repeat after me. I have a few of them, and each one has a name. People tell me that only the one with mountain air in one’s lungs can play like that.

For example, I am a thirty-four years old woman, and I’ve invented clothes that are worn in countries I’ve never been to. I’ve been called a “trendsetter” several times, which makes me laugh because it sounds like the name of a new dog breed. Several world-famous actresses were photographed in my dresses, but I have already forgotten their names. I love peace and quiet. It turns out that trendsetters are also introverts.

For example, I am a ten years old boy, and people have heard of me even in Japan. I’ve never been there, but I dream of seeing a real samurai. I’ve been called a serious mathematical talent of the decade, and I am indeed serious. Some people characterize me with the complex word “prodigy” — probably of Japanese origin. I solve complex problems with numbers and prove to myself that music is also mathematics.

For example, I am a forty-two years old woman, and a year ago I started writing poetry. Before that, I’ve built several business empires, as they say in popular magazines. But I never liked the word “empire”. I do like the word “republic”. So, several “business republics”. I like to make coffee for my colleagues. I never call them “subordinates”. In my republics there is no “higher” and no “lower”. There is only alongside.

For example, I am a fifteen years old girl, and I am quite good at painting. There were several exhibitions abroad I went to with my dad. My mother has been gone for a long time, but I carry her name, with a hyphen after mine. Her photo card is in my wallet, and in my dad’s too. I gave my dad the same wallet as mine. My paintings are sold for a lot of money. Dad wears the shirt we bought at our local market four years ago. He asks whether I like being famous. I answer that I like cola and electric scooters.


Yes, I am a twenty-seven years old man, but three years ago I died. I play the flute, but I volunteered to go to the war. I remember the day that became my last day. My death was not loud, I felt something break, and in a single second, I lost the weight of my body. I saw my brothers in arms trying to stop the bleeding, but I knew it was too late. I was happy to die so easily. When you see yourself from above, everything becomes very simple.

Yes, I am a thirty-four years old woman, but two years ago I was shot in my own car as I was leaving Irpin. I can still see that shiny grey Renault with bullet holes in front of my face. My children survived, and because of this, I know that my life was not lived in vain. Clothes and famous actresses will have to wait, after all. Here, in another world, I got a dog. I called him Trendsetter.

Yes, I am a ten years old boy, but a year ago I was burned to death by a Russian rocket. My older brother died along with me. Our bodies could not be found. The temperature was so high that metal and glass melted. Our bodies turned to ashes. They mingled with the bodies of our parents. With the ashes of my beloved cat. With the ashes of our books for children.

Yes, I am a forty-two years old woman, but five months ago I was killed by the fragments of a Russian shell. I was pouring coffee for my colleagues and adding fresh farm milk. The next time we saw each other was at my funeral. I stood on the side, invisible to everyone else, happy that so many people came to be with me. To be alongside me.

Yes, I am a fifteen years old girl, but yesterday a bomb was dropped on us. My dad has just gone out to the store. After that, he was standing under the wreckage of the house wearing the shirt we bought at our local market four years ago. I stood next to him and held his shoulder. But he couldn’t feel it. He was crying quietly, covering his face with his hands, his body was shaking silently, and I finally realized how thin he was. Don’t cry, dad, we’ll meet again. I will make some more paintings for you. Lots and lots of paintings.

We could all become someone special if it wasn’t for this war. Those who survive will definitely become them. For our sake. We look at you from above, we stand next to you, we are alongside you. Live on for our sake. Become those people we have not become. Those people we have not had the time to become.

Ukrainian Text by Volodymyr Yermolenko, translated into English by Ukrainianvancouver team — Jul 31, 2022

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