The Land Hugs Us

This land, it is embodied in voices. It’s embodied in bodies, souls, and eyes wet from rain and tears. In the steps you take, measuring the space you will never give away. In the people sprouting up from its soft, powdery black soil as trees, stalks, battalions of plants, and armies of flowers.

It is embodied in village chiefs who never abandoned their people. “No. I can’t leave my people,” they said, even after most of them left. Some of them were killed for it; others threatened with execution. But they held onto their villages, two-story schools with spacious gyms, burned-down grocery stores, and churches with bullet-pierced domes.

It is embodied in men and women who took their loved ones to safety and returned to the military recruitment centers the next day. In those who resorted to tricks to be honest with themselves. In those who reassure their family every day, without revealing where they are.

This land, it is embodied in the heads of cultural centers. The centers that suddenly turned into bomb shelters. And then into humanitarian hubs. And then into evacuation centers. And then those heads of cultural centers — their smiles sad, their voices soft — gathered their people together, got hold of the buses and drivers, got into their squeaking cars, and led those evacuation convoys away under enemy fire.

This land, it is embodied in librarians. They, who are on a first-name basis with all their fellow villagers. They, who know when those people were born, when they got married, what kind of books they read, and when they escaped death. They, who know who needs what today — and will need tomorrow. They, who read their people better than books. They, who know stories someone else will definitely write down some day.

This land, it is embodied in grandmas, home chefs of pickles and preserves, who brew the magic potion for the army and the poison for the enemy. In builders who patch up the damaged roofs, restore fences, lug bricks, and build houses. In first responders who get people out of the places you won’t find in Dante’s Inferno every single day. In truck drivers who drove their trucks full of food into the encircled and artillery-shelled towns.

It is embodied in the water utility workers who deliver water in cisterns when the water pipes get broken. In volunteers who stayed in their home villages and towns, not knowing if they would still be alive in a moment. In other volunteers who arrived to the destroyed villages the next day after the liberation and got down to help rebuild them.

It is embodied in those who enlisted in the army, even though they knew it was not “their thing.” In those who were ready to become ordinary soldiers, even though they were “irreplaceable” in civilian life. In those who know: “If not me, then who?” It is embodied in those who donate to the army daily and weekly and search through all kinds of stores and warehouses for the things frontline fighters need.

It is embodied in millions of Ukrainians who can create worlds around them. Act at their own risk and peril. Believe that their actions matter. We hardly ever realized how many people like that we have. How many people can become great. How many people became heroes while remaining ordinary people.

This land, it is embodied in our equality. In the equality the war created. But it is not the equality of coercion. It is the equality of dignity. It is the equality of appreciating a person next to you — regardless of their status, gender, financial standing, national origin, religion, or sexual identity. For you understand how much they’ve already done for you, your people, and your country.

This land, it is embodied in those who don’t want to live under the yoke. In those who give more than receive. In those who are always skeptical, critical, sarcastic, and suspicious but spring into action when the need arises.

This land, it will never give us away. It holds us close to its heart. We grew into it knee-deep. It hugs us like its own children. We will never give it away, either. Our roots are covered with its black soil. Our heads watered with its heavy rains.

* The Ukrainian version of the text was written for the Kraina Magazine, translated into English for the “Wars.Ukrainians.Humanity.” programme with the author’s consent.

The Land Hugs Us-2

Author: Volodymyr Yermolenko, Ukrainian philosopher, writer, translator

Translator: Hanna Leliv

Illustrator: Nastia Haidaienko

Content Editor: Maryna Korchaka

Program Directors: Julia Ovcharenko and Demyan Om Dyakiv Slavitski