Russia’s brutal invasion enters its sixth month. In more than 150 days of the war, I’ve experienced all the stages of grief: denial, acceptance, and a mental breakdown.
As every other Ukrainian journalist nowadays, I spend mounds of letters and hours trying to explain what this war is, to make people understand, to feel it. Empathy is key when you need allies in a fight against a bigger and stronger enemy.
Finally, now, after five months of war, I’ve come up with what I think is a decent explanation.
I formed it as a list of scenes because, for me, war is a mosaic – you can only see the full picture after you’ve brought all the pieces together.
So Russia’s war against Ukraine is:
People die every day. Their limbs open up as horrible flowers of death so easily.
Kids are no longer safe anywhere. Russia abducted so many of them, and started re-education and adoption into Russian families, trying to erase their identity and cut off their roots, as if this is a sort of horrific compensation for all those 39,000+ young soldiers it sent to the slaughter in Ukraine. And other kids survived while their entire families perished. The Ukrainian government is now looking for foster families for those poor children who’ve lost everything.
War ruins beauty everywhere. Just look at the photos of Mariupol’s mosaics, once colorful birds of prey or trees of life now destroyed by Russian shells.
War is a merciless enemy, poisoned by its own propaganda. It is a soldier who knew nothing but aggression and poverty at home. But instead of changing his country, he came to destroy yours, filled with anger on his own rulers, he’s managed to redirect it onto you. As nothing unites the former USSR's top nation more than an “external enemy”.
War is people buried in shallow graves on parking lots and playgrounds. Mass graves the size of a solar farm. There’s nothing scarier and more heartbreaking to see than a photo of a child’s body, covered with dust, rotting in a mass grave.
War is abandoned dogs, scared and starved. I see more and more of them on the streets. They feel lost and betrayed. They howl at night somewhere in my neighborhood.
War is when you have no running water. Your rivers have been poisoned, and the ground has been salted.
War is when you scream out of fear and grief, but those who aren't here create thousands of excuses of why you shouldn't be helped and why you should be sacrificed.
War is when you meet brave women and men, defenders all, going to the regions where the enemy is not ready for a face-to-face battle. Instead, it prefers to unleash a rain of artillery shells on them. You look at those men and women, feeling both ashamed you are not that brave and thinking of your own fight.
You know that it is because of those men and women that you can still feel relatively safe in most parts of Ukraine. There’s nothing better than to see businesses opening up again, goods appearing on shelves. And deep down you know that we all work for victory. But still, the guilt doesn’t go anywhere.
War is also when you rise against the evil, much larger and stronger country that just doesn't want to let you exist independently and aim for prosperity. You have to beg for weapons, as it’s a David and Goliath situation, where Goliath has artillery systems and cluster shells.
War is when you look at your land, look at your people who managed to grow food on the land above mined fields and showers of missiles, and you want to cry about why we all didn't appreciate their job, our land before the deadly rains came from the east.
War is when you are finally proud of your strong nation, but people are desperately trying to make you someone's proxy, slave, etc just because it will be easier to have you slaughtered.
War is when all your youth, childhood, and adult life is about survival. It is when you lose your home, the same home you worked so hard for. All your pretty carpets, all the Ikea furniture you worked so hard to finally get.
800,000 Ukrainians lost their homes in 5 months. Mine is ok so far. Yet I look at my green walls, my posters, my grandmother’s embroidery that I framed myself, and I understand that I might lose it all.
All this is happening just because the Russians decided I don't have the right to live by my own rules.
After reading this, look at your fields, look at your architectural masterpieces, and preserve your own culture.
And love your fellow citizens no matter what. Because it is all so fragile. There's nothing more beautiful than your land and your people. And when you lose both, it tears you down.