My sister has a university friend, Ania. It means they have been friends for more than half of their lives. So, I consider Ania my friend, too. I know the names of her husband and two sons, even though I have never seen them in person. I love Ania’s fiery temper, though we spoke briefly only a few times. She is a classroom teacher in a school in Kherson region, where she also teaches math.
In the early days of the big war, Ania and her family found themselves under occupation. I could not find the right words to text her, even though I make my living by writing and working with books. I regularly asked my sister how Ania was doing. I was happy when Alia liked or reacted to my Instagram stories. On one of those occasions, I finally dared to text her.
“It’s ok. Explosions are getting closer. It’s scary but… it means our guys are closer, too,” she texted me back.
And then she added: “I haven’t cried even once for the past three months.”
“It’s scary but… I haven’t cried even once for the past three months”
The part of Ukraine where Ania and her family lived was not just occupied by the Russian troops and military equipment. They were living eye to eye with the occupiers who settled down in their street, a few houses away from them. The occupiers went to the same grocery store, took the same roads, and looked at them closely each time they met them in the street.
Their smartphones had to be ‘sterile’ because the military could stop by anytime. They searched the houses of civilians for uniforms, weapon, and soldiers. They tried to establish their order wherever they could. For example, the following subjects were supposed to be taught in a Ukrainian school in the temporarily occupied territory of Kherson region starting from September 1: Russian language, Russian literature, history of Russia, math, and PE.
“I hope they will liberate us by September 1,” Ania texted me in May. “Otherwise, I’ll quit.”
In each of her later texts, she said how unwilling she was to leave her home and how much she hoped for the breakthrough of the Ukrainian troops. She asked me not to forget Kherson and write about it in my stories.
“I hope they will liberate us…”
In late summer, I met with my brother. He serves in the army as the battalion commander. He arrived in Kyiv from the frontline for a few days’ leave.
“You just cannot stay on the frontline. People say it’s their house, their property, and so on. But if you stay, there will be nothing left. No house, and no you,” he said.
I thought about Ania at that moment. I hoped it would not come to that.
“They left,” my sister told me one day when I met her walking down the street.
Now Ania and her family are safe.
The journey took them four days. They slept only seven hours over all that time.
Kherson region — Crimean bridge — Russia — Latvia.
Sometimes, I re-read Ania’s texts written under occupation and think about a particular one written on a hard day of this big war:
“The war will be over! Soon!!! Write a book!!!”
To me, those exclamation marks represent her tears, her confidence, and her dream.
Over the months we have been texting, she mentioned tears only twice: when she crossed the border of Latvia with her husband and children and on the Independence Day of Ukraine.