It’s my seventh day in Hamburg. I’m sitting on the bedroom floor, leaning against the closed door, and talking on FaceTime with a close friend. People down the corridor are about to go to sleep. Then he says, “Write. Notes. On Twitter. On Instagram.” And I ask, “why?” He responds, “Maybe, a person will read them and feel better for a second.”
I have never thought that I would say “I love you” that many times in my life as I have done so as of February 24. I can’t cease to write it in my daytime and nighttime messages. I just clench my teeth I say to myself, “Just don’t fuck up the names.” And I hope that the worst won’t happen and these words won’t lose their meanings for me.
I am feebly trying to synonymize “thank you” in my messages: “Thank you,” “Danke,” “Thanks,” “Vielen Dank,” “Thank you so much,” “Thank you,” “Appreciate that,” “tnx,” “Danke schön,” “I’m so grateful.” What else?
While in a car line on the Polish border, my father and I met one of his colleagues. He had dropped his family off at the crossing and was coming home; he’s 52 and wasn’t allowed to pass. He stopped on the counter lane and told us about a fast and unsafe pass to the border. And then he said to my dad, “burn the car so that the Russians won’t have it.”
Later – probably on the same day, it’s hard to tell now – hoards of people were passing by us heading towards the pedestrian border crossing. “I want to go home, mommy, I want to go home,” cried a tiny girl who was barely tall enough to hold her mom’s hand. “We’re going home,” responded the woman dully as she pulled the girl along.
Dad’s phone was ringing incessantly. People were calling to ask if he could take them out from Kyiv. They were wondering if the taxi service was still operating. Mom was also calling him and sounded frantic. And then uncle Volodia, usually the loudest personality in family gatherings, called. I could only hear him timidly say to my father “I just wanted to hear your voice.”
Then came the deafening noise of hundreds if not thousands of suitcases, strolling along the roadside all day and all night. Just the night before I was thinking that running away with a suitcase was somehow irrational: it’s bulky and heavy; you couldn’t run with it nor put it on your shoulder; you would just welter in the mud with it.
It wasn’t in my notes but I did remember the stunned face of a Mariana from Czechia, who had crossed the border from the Polish side to take her children out of Ukraine. Her children were brought by men from the Ivano-Frankivsk region. “I didn’t think they would get to the Banderites!”
After one more night in the traffic, moving at the glacial speed of one kilometer per night, with the ambulance sirens and cars roaring past on the opposite lane, with the endless clattering of suitcases and the constant knocking on the driver’s window (“don’t stop, drive, you won’t get through this way”) – the Lviv train station was calming. A lady on the phone asked, “What kind of line, my dear? There is a full platform of people; get ready to pack into a suburban train.” In the middle of the main hall, a man and a girl of my age were standing. She asked me “are you coming for an evacuation train? We have been standing here all day yesterday, none of them has come.” We exchanged numbers – to share news if there was any. My father and I decided that I would stay on the second platform and he would stay in the hall to keep an eye on the timetable. He called me shortly after that to repeat what a tall and calm man on the platform was saying: “There will be a train to Chełm. One can only get out by train now.” However, a few minutes later a woman walked out of the information desk saying that all the trains were canceled.
Early in the morning, as my dad was making sandwiches for the road, my boyfriend asked, “If you won’t cross the border this time again, will you stay with me?” I said, “I don’t think so.”
Yurii Kosach’s Aeneas was wandering in the green lanes above the Isar river. I am wandering in verdant fields of unknown waters trying to remember what exactly they resemble: Boryspil fields in the spring, the forests and ponds in a small village next to the suburban train station, or the creeks between the hills in a village not far away from Vinnytsia, where dad intended to return. A woman, who wasn’t lucky enough (at least for that day) to pass through the cherished gates just five meters from us, resented, “then he says, I will wait – it will pass. And I reply to him, ‘this isn’t a period – it won’t pass in a week.’”
Oleksandra Sauliak is an editor and translator from Kyiv. She is an alumna of the 2021 Democracy and Diversity Summer Institute.The text was translated into English by Ihor Andriichuk, PhD Student in Politics at the New School for Social Research and 2017 Democracy and Diversity Summer Institute alumnus.