I am useless for war because raised for peace, or how we joked about the war

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Lviv is a thousand kilometres (more than 600 miles) from the Russian border in the east. To shed light on the situation closer to the border, Katia, a native of Kharkiv, which some predict would be Moscow’s first target in Ukraine, shares her thoughts of how it is to live at the edge of the city, 36 km, having nowhere to escape.

By Kateryna Bortniak

I am almost 21 years old, Ukrainian, a Kharkiv citizen, 36 km from Russia, and useless for war. This is my skin:) 

My dad looks in his binocular to the Russian borders, 36 km away, and says:

«You know, they have military equipment that can reach us in one shot.»

And I know. We are at the edge of Kharkiv and I can see a ring road with trucks from my window. And the sun that rises right behind the road. 

That is kind of a joke: you see the rising sun on the side of Russia. And all the lives of Kharkiv citizens–kind of full of joking. We are doing our regular routine, drinking coffee, and thinking about the future here. Ukrainian here, not Russian here. 

In 2014, we didn’t let Russian occupants create «KHNR» – «Kharkiv people’s republic», because most of us saw our future in an independent country, a free Ukraine, connected with the rest of the civilized world, not with «big brother» supervising, not with learning the «history» of a swiftly-manufactured «republic» and not with seeing your grounds damaged, and your family killed because of the shell. 

This all is the reality of Donbas now, further to the south of us, but when it crawls to your very home it feels different. But still – the idea of Russian take-over unspeakable in Kharkiv.

Kharkiv’s citizens, according to Radio Liberty’s Current time and another report, and my own observations, think that war won’t come that close. 

War is impossible! How can that sunny frosty air be broken with shells! It is complete nonsense and political games! Some, like me, hope that war won’t come to their house and – yet we still fill up the car tank with gasoline. Just in case. We still scan all our documents on the flash drive, just in case. We still think about what to do with all this stuff: Things that you can’t bring with you, like your flat. Yes, I swear, you can’t move it even with the most powerful car:) It seems funny: get it? Your home has no legs and just waits for the shell from 36 kilometers away.

And what to do with your life? You were raised here. You loved here and hated here, yes for petty causes, but still, it seemed important. And, oh, there are maps on the walls. I got them in my traveling. What about them? Bring them if we have to flee? Such a stupid question! Buy new maps, if it is so essential for you. But I didn’t ask where I can buy them, I ask what would be with MY maps.

And the most crucial question. What to do with elder relatives. My grandmother lives next to my house and loves to walk with her young neighbor or his brother when their parents work, in our lovely yard hared by three 9-floor buildings. She is 76 years old, does not walk well, has high blood pressure, and survived a stroke. She is unable to ride in the transport and car even for a short distance. 

For us, the question «do you have a plan of evacuation» sounds like a joke. It is not a question of a «plan» it is a question of «would you let your family die or die with them.» Yes, we may not die today or tomorrow, but die later from a shelling, or just from the absence of the medication for the chronic diseases. Death is simple, she doesn’t require much to come. The absence of something small is enough.

Question of a «plan» is a question of your morale, because «plan» can be cruel and then – you know «the plan», but would you be able to accept it? And all of us have our own «amendment to the plan» and we just – keep silent with all the situation, hope, and reject even the possibility of invasion where we are helpless. I think this is an explanation of the phenomena that in Lviv, western Ukraine, that is almost 1000 kilometers away from Russia and frightened more than we here – 36 kilometers.

I always considered myself as a complete «citizen of the world» with no home, a pilgrim, a nomad. I liked roads and «all» my stuff in just two bags, and I do now. 

But roads are good when you have home to return. 

Now I understand, that I love my grounds, here are my roots. Home is the central big root, from which you grow others, smaller. You can cut small roots. With pain, but still, your base is under your feet. Cutting the central root is like pulling a brick out of the base, from the very bottom. I realized, that I am completely useless for war because was raised for peace. I shoot badly and don’t know the first medical aid, I am afraid, and I am not a hero. Definitely not.

My family and a lot of the families in Kharkiv learned to live in tension and accept it for the wellness of our own psyche. I have not experienced shelling, and hope I won’t. Our Kharkiv attitude looks to me like a final scene of a «Don’t look up». When the walls are shaking and water in glasses shimmy, family and friends are sitting and talking about the grinding of coffee beans. So do we, but not that dramatic. Without shaking walls. Just looking in a binocular and:

- You know, they have military equipment that can reach us in one shoot.

- Yes, I know. By the way, what do you think we should cook for my birthday?

By Kateryna Bortniak

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Lviv Now is an English-language website for Lviv, Ukraine’s «tech-friendly cultural hub.» It is produced by Tvoe Misto («Your City») media-hub, which also hosts regular problem-solving public forums to benefit the city and its people.


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