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What hurts the most?

When I was in fifth grade, the house of my classmate went up in flames. The fire broke out in the kitchen, then moved on to the corridor. The curtains got blown up with red, passing on the baton to the wooden window frames and wardrobes. Every pale-green, satin, and paper thing was ablaze, flushed red and burnt in the blink of an eye. After a while, the building was burnt to ashes — a place where people were living, singing Ukrainian traditional songs, adding fried barleycorn to the birch sap, reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, treating a cold with herbs, and laughing all together when a comedy TV show was on.

The day after the disaster had struck, the little girl came to school and described in detail the way everything was burning, sparking, tumbling down. In the end, she sighed: “Losing my collection of Donald and Love is gum wrappers hurts the most.”

My bold and brave aunt from Borodianka is now homeless. Out of the whole apartment, only one room is left, everything else is practically falling to pieces. The windows are gone, the walls look like bakery crumbs, the valuables are stolen, and her clothes were stomped on by the dirty military boots. There’s nothing but her embroidered pictures she is sorry for. She would embroider them at night back in the 90s. It was tough times, times of starvation. There were constant shameless delays with her salary payments, so her colleagues would bring her threads. Someone would unravel a green scarf — willows and reeds would grow on the embroidery canvas. Another person would spare some orange threads for marigolds. One day, she received her payment, for the first time in nine months. She paid all her utility debts at first, then bought a T-shirt for each of her sons. The remaining hryvnias she spent on mouliné threads. She would embroider till 3 a.m., filled with happiness. And now a Russian looter took her artworks away. Her nights, the warm sunflowers on canvases, are a part of her soul.

Something invaluable was left in every ruined house. Something you wouldn’t buy for all the money in the world. Something that has been stored for decades, taken out just to look at, and then carefully hidden back. Stored in a jewelry box. In a folder with the worn-out drawstrings. In a commemorative box.

“What I regret the most is not having time to pick up the wedding album of my parents. They are so young and happy in the photos. Mom is in a short dress with a bouquet of calla lilies, my Dad is wearing flared pants and side whiskers. Now neither home, the pictures with layers of tracing paper between them, nor the sideboard where they were stored is left.”

“Shame to admit, but the knitted fairy comes to my mind all the time. Little green fairy with wings. It was a present from my future wife back on our first date. She said the fairy would protect me. I obediently kept it in my pocket for a few years. Then the children were born, yet another job was found — and there was no time to carry the doll around. And now I want so badly to find the fairy in my pocket.”

One woman would love to take with her the letters from her husband written back in his student times as a member of a construction battalion; other, the religious icons used during the wedding or locks of her son’s hair cut off during the baptism ceremony and his first baby tooth. The photo of her great-grandmother. In the only photo of her, she’s standing barefoot in Ukrainian national clothes with her head held proudly up. The little cloth for the Easter basket, white patterns on a white canvas. It had been used to cover the Easter basket for more than twenty years. None of those people who had lost their homes is missing a washing machine. None of them measures the most precious things in kilograms, carats, 999 gold. Apparently, our values and sacred items are beyond comprehension for any atrophied Russian brain.

Russian Text by Iryna Hovorukha, translated into English by Ukrainianvancouver team — 26 Apr, 2022

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