Ukraine Stories: When the tears of a veteran of war flow thirty years later

This text comes from the “Ukraine Stories” project launched by the English-speaking partner of “Time” Geneva Solutions, which deals with international Geneva. It is about supporting and publishing the work of dozens of Ukrainian and Russian journalists who have lost their job or their media but not their know-how.

A crowdfunding campaign covered the first two months of the project. If you want to support him for the future, write info[at]genevasolutions.news

As a child, I collected casings in my garden. I had a large collection, three kilos of shell casings and some live ammunition. We exchanged them with friends, we played with them, we compared the serial numbers. It was nice. At least, that’s what I remember. I didn’t jump at the sound of gunshots and explosions. I got used to it. I remember one day when the shelling got really close to the house. The lights were off and my mother, very tense, paced up and down in the dark. I was sitting on the sofa, I was knitting, almost to the touch. I was comfortable.

A lot of things were happening at the time. A neighbour’s funeral. Terrible rumors. One day when the shelling had started, I was on my way to school and my mother couldn’t find me. She was running all over the neighborhood looking for me. There were tanks and explosions and she couldn’t find her child. Meanwhile, I was lying on my stomach in a classmate’s apartment. I will never forget my mother’s hysteria when she finally found me. I was 7 or 8 years old, maybe 9… It was almost 30 years ago. Many people have forgotten the civil war in Tajikistan, from 1992 to 1997. It caused between 160,000 and 230,000 deaths, according to sources.

relics on a shelf

Over the years, my memories have polished themselves to brilliance. They have become relics on a shelf that you can show off to your friends. Stories that keep a rowdy group or a second date going. I was convinced that my “childhood shells” had been defused, that I could play with them, as with my casings, without detonating them.

But they exploded. Not when I was covering the war, no. They exploded this year, at the end of February, when Russia launched a war against Ukraine. Yet I was safe compared to people in kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, Mariupol…

It was in the Belgorod region, in Russia. I was filming for France24 the military equipment being transported across the nearby Ukrainian border to bombard Kharkiv. I had seen this paraphernalia several times before, but this time it was completely different. It was the ordinary army of my country, before my eyes, preparing to fire from tanks and howitzers. And I knew that in a few hours or a few days, people were going to die under these blows.

That’s when my childhood memories clashed with me. These memories that I did not know. Those that hadn’t been polished to shine. They exploded and I was nauseous and shaky at what I saw on the side of the Belgorod road.

They will dream of war

Every day I think of the millions of Ukrainians with these “shells” planted in them, which will explode for years. Like the shells left over from World War II that explode 80 years later. Kids, adults, all survivors will hate the salute (I’ve always hated salutes). They will shiver at the sound of the exhaust pipes in which the air bursts. They will cry at night. They will dream of war… This is why the crimes of this war cannot be measured or counted.

A friend from Kyiv who survived the bombing of the city wrote to me that it was only recently that it got really scary. Now that the war is in the east and the air alarms rarely sound. It’s scarier now than before. The saving adrenaline has subsided and the wounds are beginning to open. Awareness and dull, infinite pain are coming. For those who survived the war, the war will never end. She will always be in them. Especially when the world begins to forget this war…

The Russians who stayed in the country and those who fled have their own traumas, their shells, their fear, I will talk about that next time.

Translation and adaptation: Aylin Elci

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