Not a movie. Not a book. Not a song.

Liubov Ivanivna, my grandma, is 83 years old. She has spent the past 123 days under Russian occupation. Again.

Grandma does not like talking about her experience in World War II. Only once did I get her to talk about her earliest childhood memories.

“My mother, my brother, and I were running away. It was an evacuation… There were railway tracks close by. Shooting all around us,” she says.

I write it down. The word “evacuation” catches my eye — I saw it in my textbooks. I do not know what it is and how it works, even though I saw photos and read about it in books. I know a story of one famous woman who took her own life, having fled the war in 1941. She escaped from hell but did not want to keep on living.

Evacuation. I can imagine only how anxious the people running from explosions are and how fast they run.

“Before setting off for the battlefield, my father sat me down on his knee, and my brother — on his other knee. He did not return home,” grandma says, continuing her story.

In the history of war, the statistical reports about dead soldiers often included this phrase: “missing in action.” Those who went to war and never came back.

Grandma’s memories have not become petrified, but she does not like to bring them back. Wistfully, she sings Ukrainian songs about separation and love. Her voice modulates as if her singing conceals many facts she silences.

I remember one phrase from my childhood very well. Liubov Ivanivna repeated it over and over: “If only there was no war… If only there was no war.”

I thought that war was something out of the modern history textbooks, biographies with the photos of Hitler and Stalin on the cover, or antiwar novels.

I thought it was something that happened a long time ago.

It will never happen again.

Never again.

On February 24, 2022, the world broke down.

In our country, the war broke out in 2014. The events in Donbas, hundreds of kilometers away from the capital. Only the anxious movement of people that could be identified by car plates, only the graves with blue-and-yellow flags on the graveyards along the Ukrainian roads reminded us that war was closer than we imagined. Here it is trying to remind us of its existence. It wants to reach all of us with its bony fingers, foreign intelligence warned us.

On February 24, 2022, the world broke down.

The early-morning shelling of Ukrainian cities pushed families to grab their suitcases and leave immediately.

Run away.

Search for places where they didn’t shoot.

The word “evacuation” was heard on all news channels. It was pronounced by politicians and military commandment.

The word out of the textbook came to life.

The men I knew — politicians, writers, athletes, publishers, and journalists — put on the combat uniform. Every day now, we collect stories about those who died a heroic death, and these are the stories about people we knew and loved.

Liubov Ivanivna is sitting in front of the TV.

The part of Ukraine where she lives is occupied. It is impossible to contact her by phone. It is unreal to go there. It turns out that she is reliving a story that no textbook can ever tell fully.

War is not far away.

Not tomorrow.

Not with someone else.

Author: Svitlana Stretovych, Ukrainian essayist, program director of Litosvita

Translator: Hanna Leliv

Illustrator: Victoria Boyko

Content Editor: Maryna Korchaka

Programme Directors: Julia Ovcharenko and Demyan Om Dyakiv Slavitski


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