Summer is all about sunny weather, the sea, sweet cherries, and watermelons. At least, for me, a girl from Mariupol strolling with a shopping bag to Stryiskyi market in Lviv. I approach an old lady selling vegetables and fruit and look closely at sweet cherries.
“They’re not from Melitopol,” I conclude.
“No,” the lady says, shaking her head. “How could they be from Melitopol, my dear child? Take these. They are from Vinnytsia.”
She’s putting a kilo and a half of juicy sweet cherries into my bag while I’m time-traveling to our yard. All people in Ukraine know about sweet cherries from Melitopol — it’s an icon of the Zaporizhzhya region, like olives in Greece or grapes in Italy. This year, sweet cherries from Melitopol were taken away from Ukrainians.
Sweet cherries from Mariupol, too — but I’m the only one who knows about them.
When I was staying at my parent’s place, I’d go out into our yard on summer mornings and pick sweet cherries to eat after breakfast. My cherries were half sweet, half tart — but they were mine. My parents always pickled them, especially the yellow kind. Almost all of them had worms, so my mother put them into a bowl and poured salty water on them to make the worms crawl out. Then she and my father pickled cherries in three-liter jars. This summer, they pickled sweet cherries, too — this time, on the grill since there’s still no gas in Mariupol.
Talking to a twenty-year-old man, now fighting on the frontline, I told him how much I missed my sweet cherries. He said he missed Kherson watermelons which were just as popular as sweet cherries from Melitopol.
“It drives me crazy that I won’t eat Kherson watermelons this year,” Vova said. “Where are my Kherson watermelons? Where are they? They came to our soil, they plunder our grain, and now they’re going to gobble up our watermelons?! Our own watermelons! They are ours!”
While Vova was raging, I was thinking about the watermelons I ate as a child in my grandparents’ village in the Zaporizhzhya region. My cousins and I always spent our summer holidays in the countryside. We’d run to the river, pick pears in the garden, dig out potatoes, go fishing, and grind dry beans. My most favorite moment of the day was when Grandpa went to the patch and picked a watermelon and a melon. When the watermelons were only tying their knots, Grandpa took a knife and cut out our initials on the would-be fruits, and we’d hurry to the patch every day to check whose watermelon was growing faster. Grandpa threw ripe watermelons and melons into a barrel of water under the apple tree to cool them. And then, after a family dinner, we’d sit under the starlit sky and bite into pieces of watermelon, its sweet juice running down our chins and arms.
I no longer have these watermelons, either. We, Ukrainians, had our Kherson watermelons taken away from us. Russian troops have occupied our villages with fertile lands. One of our neighbors told us that they came into our yard, empty and silent, trampling on our path and our soil.
But there is something they cannot trample down.
A hope that my cherry tree will bloom again and that I will pick the ripe berries, checking them for worms, and even if there’re some, I’ll still eat the cherries, half-closing my eyes in pleasure. A hope that all Kherson watermelons make a comeback to the August tables of Ukrainians. A hope that the families torn apart by war will reunite at those tables. A hope that the sun will come out even after the darkest times and that life will go on even after death.