A Portrait in Uniform

“Up to 700 thousand people have been mobilized for the Armed Forces,” Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, reported.

The portraits of soldiers fighting in previous wars came down to us fictionalized or white-and-black.

1.

Paul Bäumer is 19.

Just like all of his classmates, he volunteered for military service during World War I. Paul is given a short leave to go home. He feels uncomfortable in civilian life, finding too many things unfamiliar and strange. His life in the military camp seems more familiar and comprehensible. His father was looking forward to his son’s leave, so he could show his friends how handsome Paul looked in the uniform.

This literary protagonist is remembered not so much by his appearance but rather by his feelings and thoughts.

We would hardly remember any distinct characteristics of the soldier described by Remarque, except for his military uniform.

2.

A black-and-white photo showing a young soldier and his friend.

In 1942, he claimed he was a couple of years older — only so he’d be eligible to go to the war. He served as a machine gunner and sustained a knee injury. He often told the story of how he fled from the military hospital and pushed on the pedals of his bike as hard as he could to join his comrades on the frontline.

During the Soviet advance through Europe in 1945, he reached Berlin. Later, the Soviets arrested him and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. He was given amnesty after ten years, though.

“It’s so weird,” a friend of mine says. “My grandpa’s story sounds just the same. He was also arrested after the war and spent ten years in prison until the Thaw.”

“Up to 700 thousand people have been mobilized for the Armed Forces,” Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, reported.

3.

He is sitting across from me. In his pre-war life, Sashko was a businessman. He has two children from two different women, with a big age difference: his son is 21, his daughter — 1.

He and his best friend volunteered to fight.

Before the war, he wore a trendy hairstyle, his hair longer than most men wear. He invested his money in real estate and never spent too much. A few months of war took him to the ‘ground zero.’ To the place where you can see your enemy using a thermal camera.

He says that the time spent at the ‘ground zero’ gave him a second birthday.

“They just talked to us on the radio and warned us about the shelling. We hunkered down in the basement. Once outside, we saw that the building where we stayed was half-ruined… And then you return to Kyiv and see all this slow life… And you feel like going back to your fellows where all that action is going on.”

On September 4, Sashko will turn 44. His third child is on the way. This time, he will welcome the baby in his uniform.

Author — Svitlana Stretovych, essayist, program director of Litosvita

Translator — Hanna Leliv

Illustrator — Victoria Boyko

Editor — Maryna Korchaka

Program Directors — Julia Ovcharenko, Demyan Om

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