Half of my life ago, in 2004 to be more precise, I stayed for one year in the USA as an exchange student. It was quite an experience for a 16-year-old Ukrainian girl who grew up on American movies and TV series on the high school teen life. So I actually felt like being in one of those shows. It was not always easy by itself, but apart from that, I was in 99% of cases the only Ukrainian person everybody had ever met. And so, with every new meeting my task was to explain that:
- Ukraine is not in Siberia,
- Ukraine is not Africa either and has nothing to do with Uganda,
- Yes, we do use electricity,
- No, we don’t use child labour,
- Yes, we are allowed to show skin and we dress in a usual Western way,
and so on.
These were the real things I had to explain until the Orange revolution began. After that, I remember, it was my duty to read out loud the names of the Ukrainian politicians during the History class or give spontaneous speeches on the current events in my country in front of our church community after each mass. But that was probably the first time when Ukraine appeared in passing in the American news. Ten years later I happened to be in the States again, when the Revolution of Dignity started and the photo of the Maidan in Kyiv on fire was taking the entire front page of the Los Angeles Times.
This time, when Ukraine started appearing daily in the news all over the world, I was staying in India. This time, millions of people have learnt the inner geography of my country by heart. They know not only Kyiv, the capital, but also Kharkiv and Lviv, Bucha, Irpin and Izium, they know Vinnytsia and Kherson. Oddly enough, there is no problem with pronunciation. And when I have to answer the question where I am from, I don’t only have to explain any longer on what continent Ukraine is located, but they even ask me what city I am from.
This time, the eco of the war reaches each smallest corner of the world. Recently, I have been traveling to the foothills of the Himalayan mountains and hiking somewhere I would literally call the end of the world. It is just on the border between India and Nepal, that’s why there were three obligatory checkpoints where we had to register and show our passports. At the first one, in the town not far from Darjeeling, we were surprised to have a deep and intelligent conversation on the topic of the Russian aggression against Ukraine while the clerk was writing down the data from my visa. “We have only had a few Ukrainians visiting this place”, — he said. We passed the second checkpoint quickly, but the third one was rather interesting. Already quite up the hill, in the middle of nowhere. The border guard talked to our guide directly in Hindi, but when he took my passport in his hand I caught his sly glimpse and two words I could also understand in Hindi. He was asking something about the Russian-Ukrainian war.
It was quite bizarre to be there, at the very end of the world, where the high horizon is cut by the highest snowy peaks of the world and to receive a question like that there. The war in your country follows you everywhere. Even if they don’t ask any questions, it is still within you. Since you take your pain with you even to the end of the world. But at least they know now who you are and where you come from.