It is a country with wounded faces. With the scars that never healed — red rivers are still pouring out of them. Every wrinkle on their skin is a story about life and death. None is on its own: each drags along the next one.
The deeper the wound, the more profound the wisdom. Ancient people believed that blood was the liquid of life. So, to understand life, you must see blood more often; to understand life, you must see death. We tried hard to leave this wisdom behind. But history has no mercy for us. It throws us back into the craters of violence. It forces us to live in bomb shelters. To be born down there — and to die there.
Our history is scorched in blood. Our wounds had no chance to heal — we reopened them again and again, searching for banned memories and buried weapons. So, we have to be cleverer than our history. We must break free of its power. We must win — no matter what.
Glamour is a religion of modernity. Glamour is a face without wrinkles, skin without chaps, body without history. Glamour is all smooth and even, like in hell. Our faces are nothing like that. They are open books. Covered all over in wounds, wrinkles, bruises, and scratches. Like in heaven.
Our towns are wounded just like our bodies. Skeletons of burnt-down buildings are looming in the villages. Only ground floors are still standing — anatomical models of their former selves. The villages moan, dreaming about houses that no longer exist. You can feel the pain of those charred bricks. You can feel the rocks suffering from injuries. The souls of the dead haunt those places at night, hugging their homes like their loved ones.
Pain has become so familiar that we’re always trying to cover its tracks. Mourning has become so familiar that we are forced to complete it earlier than expected. We want the craters of our pain to be filled with asphalt as fast as possible. We do not cherish our past because we live inside it — it does not live inside us. We do not talk about it because our bodies do. The chapped skin of our towns.
It is hard to breathe when you are crying. You must take in as much air into your lungs as possible to turn it into a salty, pesky fluid. Yet another way of clinging to life.
Some ruins teach and inspire. These are the ruins where history lurks. It has been devouring these rocks year after year. Thousands of lives, each with their own story, hide behind its gulps. The ruins of ancient European cities are like that. They are history turned into space.
But our ruins are different. Just ten minutes ago, they were someone’s home. An apartment with a couch, a pot of violets on the windowsill, and a cat in a corner. Fridge magnets. Grandma’s knit blankets. A computer screen with tropical islands on it. This apartment was full of life just ten or five or three minutes ago. Now it’s all gone. History is not lurking in those ruins — it never even had a chance to take root there.
Time did not create our ruins — violence did it. There’s no continuity about them, only abruptness and ruthlessness. We are afraid of the ruins not because of what they are but because they had too little time to be alive. Too little time to live and too little time to die. One moment — and it was over.
We often wonder why Ukrainians are ranked last in all those happiness reports. But then, it’s simple: how can you be happy if even rocks are in pain in this country? When so many people were just buried in the ground, unable to afford as much as a grave? Is there any sense in ‘hygge’ if people who deserve more than anyone to live are dying every single day? If people who have more right to live than any of us does are dying every single day?
In this country, only two ways are open to you: either to empathize with everything or become indifferent to it. None of them leads to happiness. But one does lead to dignity.
But then, what is happiness? Skovoroda wisely believed that happiness is when you feel part of something bigger than you. A grain of happiness, that’s what you are. Perhaps, genuine happiness is also a pain syndrome you share with others, fifty-fifty.
This is a country with wounded faces. Only empathy and a joint fight will unite it. Only the understanding that each rock that has been cut through is your nervous system. That every destroyed house is yours. That each life that has been ruined, injured, and hurt is yours. These wounds, they are yours. You cannot get away from them. You cannot heal them. You cannot forget them.
* 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.