This was not the blog I expected to write for this week. As many of you are doing, I am watching the news, and praying and donating to the Ukrainian Red Cross* Making a #bookstacksforcause on my IG to help others donate to the charities they feel will help the most. Yet I feel impotent and torn. Part of me is in disbelief that this is happening now, in 2022. As if our era was too advanced for such thuggery.
Germany bombed my mother in WWII. She was living just outside of London, in Wembley. Mom doesn’t speak of it often, but she still has night terrors about it, some 80 years later. My mother used to wake us all up with her screaming when I was younger. Dad says it still happens. Now more people will have that terrible scar.
My generation learned how to “duck and cover” under our desks when the air raid signals went off when we were in grade school. If we have another cold war, will another generation of children need to learn to do this? Oh wait, I forgot, they’ve already learned how to run/hide/fight active shooters while at school. What a terrible curve to be ahead on.
The Ukraine is a beautiful place. I visited it a long time ago when it was still part of the Soviet Union. For those of you who are forty and above, this is the map of the USSR you’ll remember:
I went on a trip called “Camping and Driving in the USSR” while I was still in college at Northwestern. I learned how to speak Russian in a vague, get yourself fed, find the toilet sort of way before I went. Ukrainian is a different language. If you were baffled why we’re suddenly spelling the capital city Kyiv now, it’s because that is how they spell it in Ukrainian, as opposed to the Russian variant.
I remember three things about the trip I took forty years ago. The sunflowers. Miles and miles and miles of them. It’s gorgeous. Their little heads follow the sun, and when the sun isn’t out, the beautiful things turn their faces to each other.
Just like the people there are doing now, as they stand up to Putin and his mad invasion.
The second thing I remember is the churches. Back then in the USSR, church had been outlawed as the State was all, and religion ‘nothing but a sham.’ In Moscow they’d let the enormous church with the onion domes stand because it was an iconic building, but many of the churches were burnt out husks when I was there, never rebuilt after the 1917 Revolution. However, there were still functioning churches in the Ukraine. I stood in the back of an ancient, gilded, frescoed church and listened to a service, basking in the incense and the peace inside its walls. I didn’t understand a word, but I felt their faith. It brought me to tears.
The third thing I remember is the people. I’d come down with dysentery, and was very, very, disgustingly sick while I was there. As in, I lost over ten pounds in less than a week. Not the diet one aspires to.
The public restrooms were far flung at that time, and the lines to get into them were long. And when you’ve got dysentery, you don’t have a whole lot of say about when you “go” and when you don’t. I was in terrible distress in the middle of Kyiv, sure I was going to be horribly sick in the middle of the town square, waiting in one of those lines.
A woman who could have been anywhere from 40 to 60 years old noticed. She bustled up to me, put a cool hand on my forehead, and tutted. I didn’t speak Ukrainian, but she spoke Russian. Ascertaining my problem, she barked at the twenty or more people standing in line, moved them aside, and got me into a stall just in the nick of time.
It was a “squatter” which meant you put your feet on either side of a hole in the cement and squatted. The toilet paper was a book—you just tore pages out of it to wipe with. This was standard back then for toilets in the USSR. The woman waited for me. She took me outside, bought me a small bottle of warm Pepsi, and wiped my face and arms and hands with a cool cloth while we sat in the shade. Two other women came over and offered me bread. The three of them sat with me, a perfect stranger in the middle of the square in Kyiv that day, and tended me until I could walk on my own. They insisted on walking me back to the VW Van that we were driving through the length of the USSR to be sure I was safe.
That’s who is getting bombed. And I’m furious.