The seventeenth day of the great unannounced war is coming to its end.
The nauseous and piercing sound of sirens is heard in Kyiv, in the entire country. Air raid alert… The war is afraid of being forgotten.
Probably the ones who would not forget it come from the small village of Moshchun, Kyiv region. Its population, according to Wikipedia, is only 794 people. For sure, these people won’t forget the days, spend under shelling and bombing, because they have paid for their lives an enormous price.
Everything is burned down along the street, except for the chimneys — the only survivors among the piles of brickbats, wood, and unrecognizable heavily burnt household items.
Those chimneys make quite an impression: they are the symbol of our strength, our unity, and our indestructibility. There are really lots of them there. Looking at them, a thought comes to my mind: the reconstruction will start with those chimneys, or rather the construction of new houses. It seems that those chimneys are meant to be a starting point for rebirth.
Some fences and gates have “People are living here” signs written on them. It looks like people wrote it to keep themselves safe, to stop it all because you just can’t destroy a house someone lives in. It’s so naive! Bullets and bomb fragments went through those fences and gates hundreds of times. One time I counted 97 holes in a single household. That wasn’t the final number, but I stopped counting.
A woman named Valentyna comes out of the yard where an old electric moped is parked nearby.
“There were two houses here — mine and my son’s. He has just finished building it. Haven’t even registered it yet. What will happen to it now? I have signed online for a refund of my house, but my son can’t do that. So it looks like there will be no refund. What do we need? Everything. See what I’m wearing? That’s all I have. Do we need kitchenware? Oh, that would be nice. Everything melted down — forks, spoons, saucepans. I’ve just bought everything new, right before the war. It was so beautiful! And now it’s gone… Blankets? Yes, please. The more, the better — it is very cold now. Wow, this one is gorgeous! Yeah, I’ll have some food too.”
Another woman comes up to us.
“Are you the ones who brought some blankets? Could I have some, please? Sleeping bags? Could they be used as blankets? Then I’ll have two. And maybe you have something for kids? I have a little granddaughter. No, she is too small for candies, but this toy would be great. So, you’re coming tomorrow again? That’s a pity that I can be here tomorrow, I’m going to register for a refund. So, could you please bring some plastic buckets tomorrow and leave one here, at Valentyna’s place, for me. I will take it later.”
Men and women come to the volunteers’ car, taking everything we’ve got.
I feel nauseous and unwell. To be honest, I feel ashamed. Don’t know where this feeling is coming from. Not grief, not pain, but shame. It is taking over me, covering me with something sticky. I am going to Valentyna’s yard. In her yard there are two shell craters — one is quite small, the other one is of my height; there is also a neat greenhouse with sprouts of forgotten last year's onions here and there, a few dandelions, and goosefeet (the homemaker is too busy to take care of the greenhouse). There’s also a cellar without a door and some red tulips.
Villagers are still murmuring with volunteers. Their voices are very calm, almost colorless, there is no pain, hatred, or pity inside them. It sounds as if some mechanisms are speaking with recorded voices. These people are not crying, mourning, or cursing. No emotions. This calmness is frightening because it reminds the situation when someone holding a grenade with pulled-off pin — the arm is about to get too tired to hold it, and there will be a deafening explosion.
At the end of the village, we come across a house without a roof. Viktor, the owner of the house, is on the ladder nailing something. Men, who were fixing the windows before that, are coming out of the house.
Seeing us, Viktor comes down from the roof and moves slowly toward us. He is shaking hands with everyone, repeating his name each time, and then starts to talk.
“Well, you don’t know where you came to. That is the house where the film called The St. Valentine’s Day was shot. (At that moment, I am thinking: “Oh my God, has anyone ever seen that movie?”) The main female character got out of this window in the film… Oh, don’t just stay here. Go to the house, and look where the film was shot. Of course, that was a russian movie… You know, I am probably the happiest person in the village. (He is catching our bewildered gazes.) Have you seen what those damn russians did to the houses? There are no houses now. But I still have mine. We need only to redo the roof, install new windows, clean everything — that’ll be it! Live long, live happily. And then come to my barbecue party, everyone will tell you that no one makes them better than me. Yep. I am happy.”
The “happy” Viktor has a completely burned-down old car, a dilapidated barn, a destroyed shed, and a garden, pierced with bullets and shells, next to his half-ruined house. I look at this man full of energy, thinking that everyone has their own happiness. You can be absolutely blissful in the middle of a real disaster. To be happy… Somehow I cannot connect this word to these surroundings.
We are bidding farewell, listening over again about the barbecue, the film shooting, his wife that is going to come back soon… Then we start our way back home. We pass a hundred meters and suddenly hear Viktor shouting, “Stop! Stop!”
So we stop. He is almost dragging a woman by the hand. She’s got a child in her arms and a girl about 16 years old and a boy about 6 years old behind her.
“Would you give something to her, please? She is alone with children, they are in need. Their house is burned down, they’re living in the barn, and she is so shy: she would never go to the volunteers herself!”
The woman comes up to us, saying, “Well, how should I even ask for something?”
We give her everything that is left in the trunk: fruits, candies, toys, and the last blanket. The youngest kids are not willing to communicate, they don’t want to take either toys or candies, hiding behind their older sister and mom. Little cute people with such piercing eyes that when they look into yours, you want to look aside, the faster, the better.
They have the sullen look of small wolves, ready to burst into tears at any moment.
Will any child psychologist ever come to this poor village, destroyed by the diabolical whim? Can these children overcome their memories of the blackness they had to live in? Will the adults ever find the power to give their childhood back?
And a marvelously beautiful spring surrounds all this. The grass sprouts wildly; the cherry, apple, and pear trees are blossoming along the cow leek and the ancient pine wonderful scent. It seems like the spring, with its whiteness and beauty, is trying to fight darkness and death.
The tiny village of Moshchun. Entire Europe knows about you now. But does entire Europe feel your pain, like the locals do?
And I feel your pain too. Although I’ve found out about you only recently.
I don’t know what is the strategic meaning of this village to the invaders. Probably the same as those of the ruined hospitals, schools, and libraries all over the country. Your ruination is beyond any logic. Just like the entire war is.
I really want Moshchun to find the strength to rebirth. But I realize that for villagers there will be no pre-war Moshchun and no pre-war life.
And russia will be ruined. Because the dangerously calm voices of the villagers and the deeply watchful eyes of their children are craving for vengeance. I want this revenge to be as cruel as possible.
P.S. I thank people for living someone else’s problems and pain like their own, living for their hearts, their smiles, and their voices. I thank the volunteers who made it possible for me to see and live with it.
May 4 at 9:55 p.m.
Ukrainian Text by Iryna Savchenko, translated into English by Ukrainianvancouver team — Jun 7, 2022