Dictionary of War: from garbage to warehouse


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While in Nazi-occupied Warsaw in 1943, the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz wrote a cycle of poems entitled The World: Naive Poems. Most of those poems are interpretations of some simple words: «Anxiety», «Love», «Hope», «The Gate», «The Porch», «The Road», and so on. Because war changes the meanings of words. Some meanings ​​become blunted and need to be sharpened like a knife with a sharpening stone. Some, on the other hand, become so sharp that it is impossible to look at them. Some words die and fall apart. And some re-emerge from the past and begin to mean something again becoming important.

I will try to compile such a dictionary of war. But not from the poems or texts written by me. All of them will be fragments of someone else’s monologues that I have heard and will probably still hear during these hard days. Perhaps, just a little adjusted. Some will be translated from Russian.

At the Lviv railway station, through which during these days of the war, waves of internally displaced persons have been moving from east to west, in temporary shelters, even just on the streets, or near coffee booths people tell stories. Sometimes they start telling by themselves, sometimes they need to be gently pushed or asked, and then a wave breaks through, which is hard to stop.


Many of these stories are written not by me, but by my co-authors, the same participants and witnesses of this war. These are their personal stories, as well as stories heard from other people. Today my co-authors are Anna Protsuk, Yevhen Klimakin, Oksana Kurylo, Dmytro Tkachuk, Bohdana Romantsova, Oleksandr Motsar, Stanislav Turina, Larysa Denysenko, Viktoria Cherniakhivska, Kateryna Yehorushkina, Arina Lepetiukh, and Violetta Terlyha.

So, let’s start.


Kateryna, Vyshhorod

«February 24. Russian helicopters just flew over the house, shells were falling. I have to get out of here. I have to take the garbage out.


I took a bag with organic waste. Should I take the bags of plastics, glass, and packing boxes as well? Won’t everything be mixed up in the chaos of war? Those carefully washed yogurt jars, bottles, and children’s coloring books…


Won’t my house and my city become garbage if I leave them?


Do I have the right to think about it?»


Bohdana, Kyiv–Lviv

«Madeleines have been brought as part of the humanitarian aid, and they are actually inscribed as ‘madeleines’. They are neatly packed in separate bags so that everyone could have their own, personal madeleine. We give them to children, and for me, it is a symbolic act. Everyone carries a piece of their own Combray to the future—this is how the longevity of shared memory is built. This is how we protect our inner cities, and no occupier will destroy them».


Uliana, Lviv


«The Puppet Theater has become a shelter for internally displaced people. We put mattresses on the stages, in the halls and lobby. In the first days, there were many people with their kids and pets. For two days, they lay on those mattresses in silence. I have never seen so many silent kids and pets in one room.


Then they began to liven up.


But I will never forget that silence. It was horrifying».


Nina, Konotop

«In fact, I often think about memory. We don’t know what our brain is capable of.


My husband was a geologist. He traveled all over the Soviet Union, often spending months somewhere beyond the Arctic Circle, and wrote me letters from there. There were such postcards at that time, and he sent them instead of greeting cards. I’ve collected forty-three of them. And so, when I packed my stuff to go to the shelter, I put them all in my bag. Someone took books with them, and I took those letters. I thought why not reread them. But I couldn’t read there, the light was bad, so I just picked them up and recalled the text. I haven’t reread them in a long time but they live somewhere in my memory.


And then, when the text was over, I began to write answers in my head. Because, I’m ashamed to say it, but I rarely wrote back to him. Those were such brief replies. And now I wrote long beautiful answers. But I said nothing about the war and the bomb shelter. He doesn’t need it there, does he? I only told him that the winter was very long».


Yuliia, Dnipro

«We went to Lviv by evacuation train, kind of InterCity one. A woman sat next to us. There was probably something wrong with her legs or back because she could not sit for long: she put something on the floor, lay down, and covered herself with some clothes and other stuff, including her head. On our way, we noticed that there were relatively few people in our carriage. When I went out to smoke at the train stop, everything became clear: people thought that we were carrying a dead body, and therefore they didn’t come».

Hot Coca

Bohdana, Kyiv—Lviv

«Yesterday, there were many, a great many people from Kramatorsk. Trains arrived and people came to have some food and talk. At the time, we served milk-boiled rice: a typical morning meal, I don’t like it. We were running out of coffee and thought about making hot cocoa instead. Actually, adults love hot cocoa too, but sometimes they just find it awkward to admit it. I was looking for green tea among black tea because one lady wanted the green one. I joked that we would feed half of Ukraine with tuna from Poland, as it literally filled up our warehouse and already displaced even powdered milk. We found half-liter bottles of water, and I dug up a whole box of chocolates for children under the piles of pate. Those were in striped green wrappers, like tiny watermelons. Everyday worries, small joys, and tuna—everything was as usual.


And today they have shelled Kramatorsk railway station. And I can’t get out of my head that more than thirty people won’t drink coffee, ask for tea, or hand out candy in a striped wrapper to their kid anymore. I will never persuade them to have a tuna sandwich anymore. They were on their way to us, and we had already found coffee for them.


I don’t know whether there is anything beyond. But if there is, somewhere over there, there must be the most delicious hot cocoa in the world.”


Violetta, Mariupol

«On the twenty-second of February, my brother had his wedding. We were so happy that the rumors of war did not come true. Then, a week or a week and a half later, my brother and his wife decided to flee Mariupol. They packed a suitcase and moved along the highway to get out of the city. I wrote on a piece of cardboard “Zaporizhzhia” for them to try to catch a passing car. That is how they went on their honeymoon, their first wedding trip».


Stas, Kyiv

«A dream is more real than my day. During the day, I chase away various thoughts in my head with some doings. So reality comes to me in my dream. “The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters,” Goya said. Now, one of the many meanings of those words is the following: you have to think by force and against reality.


Today I wish to go back to my childhood. I have escaped to a place where there is no war. To Makiyivka, to Ust-Kamenohorsk, to Zakarpattia of my childhood. Now, when I feel sad, I run to my childhood for the second time. The first time, I recalled my preschool growing up step by step. Now I recall the bear. Both my own and the imaginary one—the two toy bears. I hug him, a little one, and then he, huge and with white spots, hugs me. I make it up, and there is no war. I will say it, just to make it sound here, “fantasy.” Such good sounds: “fantasy”».


Maryna, Kharkiv

«We had no bomb shelter, so the only hope was our bathroom. I never thought an entire apartment could shrink down to the size of a bathroom. When missile attacks started—first a few houses away from ours, then two houses away—I gradually stopped cleaning and dusting the apartment, as if I gave up on everything. It all became so useless to me. Then I said to my bathroom: let you make me safe.


I was actually in the bathroom when they hit our yard. All, absolutely all the windows flew out, even the frames; our kitchen, and bedroom, everything was strewn with glass. Glass shards and fragments of frames were everywhere on the floor. I could not be safe anywhere else. Except for the bathroom. Can you imagine, the next day they turned the hot water on. I don’t know why, but it was like a reward for something. There was no electricity, and the hot water was flowing from the tap! I filled up the bathtub and lit the candles. I found some scented oil. I felt like the heroine of One Thousand and One Nights, like Scheherazade. Except for, I do not count the nights anymore».


Romanna, Kyiv

«When the windows are taped, so the glass shards don’t fly apart because of the explosion, the tapes look like stars. I did so at my place: using the opaque duct tape; four strips crosswise; on each window. On both sides, according to the instruction. When it is sunny outside, you wake up in the morning and there are shadows of duct tape on the wall. Like stars. Crawling slowly.


I wish it was my only memory from the war».


Kateryna, Vyshhorod

«I recently read a story about World War II. It was about a girl who took her mother’s worst clothes to pass the Nazis unnoticed and avoid being raped. I stopped by the closet: should I wear the worst, or do I still have some time to slip by? Everything is changing so fast. I couldn’t call a taxi: either short beeps or just a refusal. I will go to Kyiv on foot.


During the war, beauty becomes dangerous. Beautiful things, people, and relationships now exist not for inspiration, but for destruction. Not for contemplation and loving touches, but for pain.


My boots are stuck in the mud alongside the highway. The phone beeps, and I’ve got a message: “You just had a manicure in our salon. Please leave your feedback”».


Violetta, Mariupol

«In fact, March 8 is my favorite holiday, but this spring in Mariupol I did not expect any gifts or first spring flowers. My sister and I took big plastic bottles and went to look for some water.


We heard some rumbling sounds in the area, but it still seemed to us that it was on the other side. Then I heard a whistle approaching us and told my sister to crouch down. I didn’t want to fall because the ground was wet, so I crouched down. My sister remained standing dumbstruck: maybe she didn’t believe it yet, or maybe she was afraid to look funny. Then an explosion erupted nearby, and soil fell down on top of us. Then we started running. And when we looked back, we saw someone near the epicenter of the explosion, who was still sitting in a pink blanket on a bench near the porch—apparently basking in the sun—leaning over the bench and falling unnaturally.


This year, on March 8, women were given death and life. We got life».


Kateryna, Vyshhorod

«On the 24th of February, I watered the flowers and left home. They have been without water for over a month now. When the Russians retreated from my town, my mother wanted to take care of the flowers. She was ready to spend three hours on the road to go there.


People were waiting for the electric train, and there was a freight train on the next track. Something was being unloaded out of it to the warehouse-hangar room. I know that warehouse well: when I was a kid, we used to bring waste paper there and exchange it for books.


Suddenly my mother felt dizzy, her legs were unsteady, and she barely made it home. She spent the rest of the day nauseous and vomiting.


The warehouse, where books used to be kept, became a warehouse of human bodies».


Translater by VERBatsiya translation group (Yulia Didokha, Tania Rodionova, Veronika Yadukha)