Redak­tion „novinki“

Hum­boldt-Uni­ver­sität zu Berlin
Sprach- und lite­ra­tur­wis­sen­schaft­liche Fakultät
Institut für Slawistik
Unter den Linden 6
10099 Berlin

#War­Diary 5: From Kyiv with sunlight

In ihrem heu­tigen Ein­trag ins #War­Diary schreibt die Über­set­zerin und Lite­ra­tur­wis­sen­schaft­lerin Lina Zalitok über ihre Reise nach Kyjiw unter den ver­än­derten Umständen des Krieges.

24th day of war esca­la­tion (my friend’s wor­ding seems to me more appro­priate than “war start”, as the war started in 2014). I have been inten­ding to write this text for several days already and now finally I am wri­ting it. I ent­ered into the freeze modus of the known “fight, freeze or flight” reac­tion to stress. Maybe all my adre­na­line was used or I just got tired of being alert, but now I am sleepy most of the time and do rather few coor­di­na­tion tasks. Also, I rea­lized that some­times it is more rea­son­able not to do anything in order not to amplify the exis­ting chaos as my friend put it one day. Vol­un­tee­ring and brin­ging people, offe­ring and asking for help, tog­e­ther effi­ci­ently is ano­ther topic I hope to address in the nea­rest time.
I am not even thin­king about bomb alarms any more. There was only one or two and I missed them because of sleep during last days. I wake up more rarely at night because of a sudden fee­ling that our flat is being bombed or going to be bombed right now. Like my friend in Lviv, I am not afraid of being bombed to death, espe­cially while slee­ping. I need sleep so badly that I don’t care about rockets or bombs. My big­gest fear is not death, I sup­pose. My big­gest fears are losing con­nec­tion, tor­ture, hunger and being hea­vily injured. I am naming them to get rid of them. Let’s see if it works.
Ano­ther reason drai­ning my energy were my dis­cus­sions with some friends and rea­ding media mate­rials about what is actually hap­pe­ning, why and who can stop this. As a person who inter­na­lised in phi­lo­sophy lec­tures at my Berlin uni­ver­sity that you should always doubt and never be sure about cer­tain ideas, I have put ever­ything I learned, believed and heard or read under a big ques­tion mark. Stan­ding in this self-dest­ruc­tive posi­tion, it was impos­sible to write anything. I put myself on the brink of an abyss, in the dark world where most of people are either mean or stupid or greedy. Then I decided to step back and give myself at least some bottom lines. Even if they are wrong. I cannot allow myself to doubt ever­ything in the time of war. Other­wise I won’t sur­vive. Pri­ma­rily because in this case I wouldn’t want to sur­vive. Despe­rate people is not what Ukraine needs now.
This day was dar­kened by the death of a bus driver whom my family knows very well. I went several times to Kyiv with him when I was a stu­dent. All the day we heard from dif­fe­rent people the details about his death and in the evening my father brought us the final veri­fied ver­sion coming from the driver’s friends. He was shot by a young Ukrai­nian defender while pas­sing in the darkness in an empty schoolbus a che­cking point. As shortly before that, there was an explo­sion in that town, the guy thought, when seeing the lights of the car, that it was a vehicle of enemies and shot into the bus window immedia­tely. We don’t blame him for this, as we heard a lot of sto­ries about cars pas­sing che­cking points and shoo­ting all the defen­ders there. But it is not less tragic because of that. The bus driver was a good-hearted man. It was his third day when he had been evacua­ting people without having proper sleep. He has two children and a wife. Tomorrow we will go to his funeral.
Before today, I wanted to tell about ano­ther more cheerful evacua­tion though. On the 17th day of war esca­la­tion, I sud­denly had a strong gut fee­ling that I should go to Kyiv and save some of necessary (like docu­ments, note­books and USB sticks with files) and dear things (like pres­ents by my friends). This fee­ling got stronger as I read a post on the Face­book page of Ukrai­nian writer Serhiy Zhadan about his decision to evacuate a pain­ting by Olek­sandr Rojt­burd (who died shortly before the war esca­la­tion) from his apart­ment and hide it in a safe place. I don’t have any art pieces, but I have Pan­dino (Ita­lian word for “little panda”) and Stork (or Storch as I call him in German) who accom­pa­nied me when I moved from Berlin to Brussels, back to Berlin and then from Berlin to Kyiv. They have always been my island where I escaped bana­lity of ever­yday life and anchor in times of fear and sorrow. From time to time with my best friend I write in WhatsApp fic­tional chats about what Pan­dino or Storch would say, think and do in a cer­tain situa­tion. I also wrote three Christmas sto­ries about them and would like to con­tinue to show the world from their per­spec­tive. So it was important to evacuate them from Kyiv.
I had a fee­ling that there was an oppor­tu­nity window to go to Kyiv as there was still trans­port from my town there. The news showed almost no repor­tages about the situa­tion in Kyiv, my friends in Kyiv started to feel anxiety because of the absence of explo­sions, so it was indeed quiet. I sud­denly started to worry that someone could break into my Kyiv apart­ment or has already done so. Apart from that, I don’t own this apart­ment, so I wanted to take my necessary and dear things from the place which doesn’t belong to me.
I still decided to wait until Monday. On Sunday’s evening when my mother con­firmed to me that there was a transfer in the morning which I could take, I unex­pec­tedly felt relieved and full of enthu­siasm and love. As I walked joy­fully to the bus sta­tion on Monday morning in my town, sud­denly the silence was broken by a rather strong explo­sion. I shud­dered. Some people turned back for a second, but then con­ti­nued wal­king. Near the police sta­tion men with guns smiled and dis­cussed what that might be. I con­ti­nued wal­king and hoped hard that it was not­hing serious which could bring me away from my reso­lute decision to evacuate Pan­dino and Storch. In some ten minutes I reached the sta­tion. Ever­ything looked usual, there was a bus as pro­mised and I ent­ered it. Inside I noticed with relief that there were also women and a couple with a little kid among pas­sen­gers. If there are other women and even kids going to Kyiv, then I am a rea­son­able person and the risk is not too high, I thought.
As I got off the bus, Kyiv wel­comed me with lots of sun­light and a sound of three explo­sions. As I saw Kyiv buil­dings, kiosks and few people pas­sing by, I felt lots of love to this city. I said an Ita­lian common bad word in order to react to those explo­sions in some way and ordered a taxi with an app. It arrived almost immedia­tely and cost me 200 UAH. In usual times it would cost some 130 UAH or even 200 UAH with traffic jams. There were no traffic jams, but there were several che­cking points. Ever­y­where one could see con­crete blocks with inscrip­tion “Atten­tion! Land­mines” in Ukrai­nian. On one of the blocks at the ent­rance to the city the inscrip­tion was in German “Ach­tung! Minen”. I cannot exp­lain why. The city was deserted, only at three places I saw long lines near super­mar­kets. At several check­points there were indi­vi­duals, also women and old men, wal­king with dogs. I had never seen so much sun­light in Kyiv.
Con­ver­sa­tions with taxi dri­vers are a genre en soi in Ukrai­nian Face­book. But nowa­days they are much more inte­res­ting than ever. My taxi driver was a man of some 60 years old, loo­king a bit bizarre, nice, but also tel­ling bizarre and con­tra­dic­tory things. I was cheerful and full of love to Kyiv and every part of it, espe­cially people. He was rather irri­tated and dull, but ready to talk.
We stopped several times at checkpoints.The men there asked him to show his pass­port. A bit later he said to me:
- Look at my passport!
- Huh?
- Look how shabby it became! Soon one won’t even see my photo! I cannot stand them! They con­trolled me already 200 times today!
- Oh… And how is the situa­tion in the part of the city, where you live?
- I live in Vysh­neve (south of Kyiv). I cannot sleep. They have been shoo­ting all the time there.
- Did Rus­sians hit any buil­dings there?
- Come on! Show me what they hit. Ever­y­body is saying they hit this and that. I drive through the city ever­yday. I didn’t see anything which was hit.
I remem­bered the mes­sage of my friend in Berlin whose par­ents in Crimea told her that “They didn’t bomb peaceful cities”. Can it be true? For a moment, I thought, I ent­ered in a dif­fe­rent reality.
- Mmm…but my friends who live in Kyiv now, told me that there were explo­sions. – I also remem­bered the messages of a fire­fighter from my dance class chat, who told us that they had been put­ting out fire all the time.
- They told in the news that a rocket was thrown at the hos­pital Okh­madyt. I was dri­ving there. Only the door exploded. I served in rocket forces. If a rocket had fallen there, there would be not­hing in the radius of 2 kilo­me­tres there.
Indeed I saw no ruins from the car window. I was happy and worried about that. But we were dri­ving only in one part of Kyiv, close to the city centre.
- Hmm…So it is safe here, isn’t it?
- Nowhere is safe. It doesn’t matter where you are. It doesn’t make any sense to flee any­where. You will be atta­cked any way, sooner or later.
We reached my buil­ding. The yard was full of sun. I thought that I had been living in a nice city corner. In spite of ever­ything I thought and felt on the first day of war esca­la­tion. A young woman walked past me. It was a good sign. So it was more or less safe. I ent­ered my apart­ment. It was also full of sun­light. I have never seen this apart­ment like this before (I moved in in October). It looked so lovely. On the first day of war esca­la­tion I thought that I hated this apartment. 
Anyway I didn’t want to stay there for the night alone. It was 11:50 a.m. The last bus to my home was at 02:30 p.m. I had some two hours to turn off water, the fridge and to pack ever­ything. So I started to make all the flat upside down in search for the important things. I felt like an ama­teur looter, because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before and the time was flying too quickly.
I just threw ever­ything on a big heap near my suit­case which I bought for my first emi­gra­tion to Berlin in 2013. I asked my mother on the phone if I should take also a package of rice (yes) and laundry deter­gent (yes, there are almost no laundry deter­gents in the stores in our town). In WhatsApp I asked my Ita­lian friend if I should take Hanna Arendts books (yes, they will be useful), which I managed to bring from Berlin during last trip, and Machia­vellis book in Ukrai­nian which I bought shortly before the war esca­la­tion (yes, if pos­sible). Shall I bring that nice evening dress I bought in Isernia?…and my dance shoes?… All of this felt sur­rea­listic. It was still much less stressful than in spring 2019 when I had to free my Berlin apart­ment from the staff I gathered in 6 years, when shortly before my flight I was still packing and clea­ning. There in Berlin I couldn’t order a taxi because it is unspeakably expen­sive, so I had to carry ever­ything in my hands wal­king to the bus and then to S‑Bahn.
I ordered a taxi, but I knew already that I was run­ning late. In the last moment I dis­co­vered a bag with my uni­ver­sity diplomas, so I just took it without trying to pack ever­ything pro­perly. The taxi driver was a grey-haired man wea­ring a cap and loo­king like an Arme­nian or Geor­gian (I am not good in people’s faces). He was sorry that he couldn’t help me to lift my suit­case, because he was “a war invalid”. When in taxi, I called the bus driver and asked if he might wait a little bit. The taxi driver said slowly that we needed 30 minutes. The bus driver said: “No, I cannot wait half an hour with people in the bus”. I agreed and thanked him. Last hour my mother had been cal­ling me all the time to make sure that I would make it in time. Alt­hough the night before and in the morning she didn’t believe I would. Me neither. She was very angry to know on the phone that she was right. I was also disap­pointed. The taxi driver was tal­king a lot and exp­lai­ning me that I should avoid deserted places, I should stand near groups of people, it is war, you know, you never know, it is dan­ge­rous, I shouldn’t worry, maybe, there is still a car, if I don’t make it until 6 p.m., I should go back to my apart­ment, because later there are fewer taxis…I tried to listen to his words, but my disap­point­ment let me hear only some of them. Exp­lai­ning all of that, he was dri­ving even more slowly. I felt even more hel­pless. We arrived 16 minutes later. There was no bus any more. Later I knew that the bus driver had waited for 15 minutes for me.
I wanted to take my suit­case out of the car’s trunk, but the taxi driver said, he would help me. “But..” – I said. “It’s Ok” – he ans­wered. I felt bad, because he was very nice and atten­tive to me, and I was so cold-hearted with him. I hardly said a word when being in the car. 
So here I was, again on the exit of the city hitch­hi­king in war time, but this time in day­light, with lots of sun­light and lots of bags. There were no people hitch­hi­king like me in con­trast to the last time. Only a little bit later there was one man. At the bus stop there were several fami­lies with suit­cases, but they didn’t go on the road to stop cars like me. I won­dered why. But then a bus came and all of them went towards it. Me too. Only to find out that it was a mar­sh­rutka hea­ding to a town close to Kyiv. Then I spotted a minibus behind the bus stop. I asked a man stan­ding near the bus, where it was going and if there was place for me. They were going to Lviv. Ok, not my direc­tion. Yes, there was place… I went back to the road and lifted my arm to stop cars. Nobody stopped and there were fewer cars than ever. Stan­ding there, I was won­de­ring, maybe I should spon­ta­ne­ously go to Lviv…But I wasn’t sure that I didn’t leave some important things in my par­ents’ town…Lviv and maybe then Berlin…
One taxi app was also offe­ring to book trips for longer distances. It cost some 1200 UAH. But maybe I should go back with all these bags and stay in my apart­ment for the night… then it makes 400 UAH for taxis back and forth. Ok, maybe I should book a taxi to my town. The price changed to 1700 UAH… Sud­denly a car stopped. “Where are you going?” “To city X”. When I heard that before, I used to say “No, thanks, I need to go much fur­ther “. This time I also said that auto­ma­ti­cally, but I was also tal­king on the phone with my mother who heard that and said “No, go!”. The young guy dri­ving that car was nice and I felt safe in his car. He picked up also ano­ther man, in mili­tary clothes. The latter was tel­ling lots of things without a pause. They were tal­king and I was happy to have my peace and sear­ched how I could get home from city X. 
The sun was shi­ning. Later the man in mili­tary clothes got off the car, but managed to infect the car driver with his tal­ka­ti­ve­ness before. The car driver didn’t want to take any money (which never hap­pened to me before). He told me that he and his friend heard powerful explo­sions while drin­king coffee in the morning one day. I don’t remember why, but it sounded funny the way he told that. We laughed. It was also so good to hear about the situa­tion in his city from its inha­bi­tant. Before I heard about these explo­sions only in the news. It was also lovely to hear that the city con­ti­nued it’s usual life. I wanted to know more, but then he sug­gested tal­king about the coming spring rather than about explo­sions and shootings.
In the mean­time my mother found a man in our town who would drive from our town to city X and pick me up on the highway next to it. The car driver told me that he would drive me home if I paid for petrol. I had been too shy to ask for that before and my mother was to quick to find ano­ther solu­tion. So I wished him all the best and got off the car in city X.
I had to wait for some ten minutes on the highway. I reco­gnized the bus stop very well, alt­hough it was bizarre to see it without inscrip­tion “City X”. All the road signs had been eli­mi­nated in order to make the Rus­sian bar­ba­rians get lost. I looked at Pan­dino and Storch in the beau­tiful sun­light. I have never seen such sun­light before and it reminded me of my friend’s photos from Oman which he sent me in February. So Oman, huh? I didn’t become a tree. I still love traveling. 
A police car with two men stopped near me. 
- Why are you stan­ding here?- they looked at Pan­dino and Storch
- I am wai­ting for my friend to pick me up.
- Ah ok, sorry. We just won­dered, if you needed help.
I have never had to do with police and I heard a lot of mean jokes about them. But now I love our police.
My “friend” (recently all of us, Ukrai­nians, have so many friends of friends of friends…some of them we have never seen in person) came with his wife. As I wanted to use a seat­belt, she told me “Don’t do that, you need to be mobile and be able to get quickly out of the car if there is a shoo­ting”. She told me about her friend’s family who was shot in car while trying to flee Irpin. The first car managed to escape, but not the second. Then she told that the house of her uncle in some vil­lage was shot or atta­cked with some rockets (I didn’t learn all the names of wea­pons yet). Then her hus­band turned on some songs about war in Rus­sian lan­guage which I never heard before. I hadn’t lis­tened to music since the war esca­la­tion, but it felt great to hear those harsh words about figh­ting while dri­ving in a car with “friends” in the light of the evening sun. I hope these were Ukrai­nian music bands…
As I arrived home, the most dif­fi­cult part of that day’s mis­sion awaited me. We had a big family con­flict about my being late for the bus and about the fact that it might have been rea­son­able to stay in Kyiv for the night and go by bus the fol­lowing day. As if Rus­sians in the country were not enough. Sud­denly I wanted badly to “evacuate” to Lviv or Berlin. For­tu­n­a­tely, the next day we made peace, so I am staying. My friend told me that she was happy to hear that my par­ents and me were quar­rel­ling. It implied, that the situa­tion was still good.
As for the explo­sion in the morning, it was a rocket hit­ting our radio tower. My neighbor who works there, was going to drive there 20 minutes before the explo­sion, but for some reason he didn’t. The tower was repaired that very day. The neighbor told my father about “golden details” of that “beau­tiful rocket”. It is already the third one in our town, but the first to fall. In the first days of war esca­la­tion my father saw two “beau­tiful” winged mis­siles flying past him some­where fur­ther. This reminds me about a woman from Charkiv staying with her child for several days at my friend’s place in Berlin, who told her that one day “they saw from their flat window a beau­tiful huge fire as they show in films”. Maybe that’s the same beauty as the one meant by the recently done mural on a school in Naples depic­ting Dos­t­oy­evsky and saying “Beauty saves the world” in Rus­sian? I cannot wait to be saved.
The fol­lowing day I learnt from my friend that a buil­ding next to her flat was ruined by a rocket in Kyiv. The day after that the aut­ho­ri­ties in Kyiv and Kyiv region announced a curfew for two days. 

Bild­quelle: © Lina Zalitok, 2022. Blick aus dem Auto­fenster am Weg nach Kyjiw.