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I am happy whenever I read stories of conscripts who, when mobilised, refuse to kill and get killed.

Updated: Dec 9, 2022

Film-curator 30-40yrs old.

It is really difficult for me to describe how my life changed after February 24th. I’ve written this short text with great difficulty because I have to touch upon the gangrene that is now inside me, constantly emanating a stench that is unbearable and impossible to ignore: the war and everything that has happened in the country after February 24th.

February 23rd was already an unhappy and potentially dangerous day. How can the Defender of the Fatherland Day be a happy day, if you really think about what it signifies. I remember all the small details of that day almost minute by minute. It was the last day of the old, peaceful life, even though the decrees recognising the [so-called] Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics had already been signed, and the order for [Russian] troops to enter these territories already given. This was certainly bad news and yet, I and the people around me expected the situation to either unfold like the shameful but bloodless scenario with Crimea — Russia would establish a military presence in the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk and [foreign] sanctions would be imposed [against Russia] — or events would unfold in a way that would repeat Cold War patterns — an open confrontation between Russia and the West with threats coming from both sides but without active military conflict.

But on the morning of February 24th all hell broke loose. Even now, I cannot believe that my country, where I grew up, where I received my education, is capable of this — of attacking a neighbouring country without warning, bombing cities and innocent civilians — losing its mind, all feeling of self-worth, self-preservation, any rational understanding of self-interest. When Chernobyl was captured on February 24th, it seemed to me like the beginning of the Apocalypse. After that followed [the capture] of the Nuclear Power Plant in Zaporizhzhia, then Bucha, Borodyanka, Mariupol getting completely wiped off the face of the earth, and the bombardment of civilian buildings all over Ukraine. Emotionally, probably this is what has been most horrifying in these more than nine months of war.

I have a complicated relationship with my own national identity. My mother is Ukrainian, and this is shown on my birth certificate. I have never been to Ukraine, but inevitably talk always turned towards it within the family, and my knowledge of my grandparents’ homeland did not extend beyond toponyms, the names of the cities my relatives left for the capital of the former empire — Shepetovka, Kharkov, Lvov, Severodonetsk, Chernovtsi. It is shocking how since the start of the war, these names are now associated with thoughts of pain, helplessness, and loss; [even more shocking] when you realize that the army of your country is bombing Kharkov, the city where your grandmother studied medicine, and that in Severodonetsk the deaf and dumb sister of my grandfather is sitting in a cellar with no electricity or heat waiting for all this to end.

It is probably fortunate, that my closest relatives, being ethnically Ukrainian, took an unequivocal stance against the war. Before the war, this stance seemed to be the only possible, self-evident one to take. But after February 24th, almost everyone had to go through the painful disappointment of having someone from their inner circle of relatives, friends, colleagues, and neighbours, for whom things ‘were not so unequivocal’. There was also the opposite — cases when acquaintances, who sympathised for personal or ideological reasons with the citizens of Donbass who had been made into bargaining chips in the war, wrote in horror on Facebook that there are limits, and spoke out against the war. Some of them even emigrated.

Every such story made me glad –- not those of emigration, but of the common sense displayed by these acquaintances of mine who changed their minds, and I am happy whenever I read stories of conscripts who, when mobilised, refuse to kill and get killed, choosing instead to leave, to run away or even go to prison (which, given the entirely abnormal circumstances, is probably the most level-headed and rational decision to take, since at least in prison you can survive, on the frontline you will not).

My husband and I left [Russia]. He left at the beginning of March, and I left later. By February 24th, it sadly became clear to us that there was no turning back. Leaving was the only sensible action. Now I think that this was a selfish choice, being able to leave, possible only because from the very the start we were in a relatively privileged position. It is of course impossible for us to tear up our passports and say like the charming twenty-year-old waitress we met in Tbilisi, that ‘the years spent in Moscow, were the darkest period of my life’. For us, these years were all different, as different as the people who stayed back in Russia, many of whom find themselves now in an atmosphere of unfreedom, where it is dangerous to speak out and yet they still do, using every possible means of protest, not selling their souls, not losing their powers of reason or common sense, raising their children, doing their jobs if only to not let their places be taken by overzealous patriots with absurd slogans. After all, sooner or later, it these is these people who will decide the fate of our country.

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