I’m writing these lines on the border of Kyiv, where fighting is now taking place between Ukrainian defenders and Putin’s invaders. I evacuated my wife last night. It took us a long time to get to the village where her friends were waiting, they only had one place left in the car. She’s gone.
I decided to return to Kyiv. My mom is here, she has three cats and no car. She has nowhere to run.
All morning, I walked to Kyiv along the highway. The road to Kyiv is empty, crammed with cars for tens of kilometers ahead, as if it were a movie about the zombie apocalypse. Someone leaves their pets right there on the road, telling them to “just go,” someone writes “children” on their car to avoid getting bombed, someone dramatically stalls and remains alone on the road. Someone tries to go around the side of the road, someone offers a ride to people with huge backpacks. Everything is as it always is, in all wars of conquest that cause mass migrations.
We don’t know what will happen to us in a couple of hours. But there is no fear. There is Ukrainian unity. Encapsulated in the phrase: “Russian ship go fuck yourself!” which the Ukrainian border guards yelled at the invaders on Zmiiny Island, when they threatened to kill them and shouted at them to surrender, saying, “This is a Russian warship so lay down your arms or you will be destroyed.” They were all captured, they did not give up. Let their cry of freedom live forever in history.
Some Ukrainians are dying, allowing the others to retreat. All my life I will remember their sacrifice on the altar of democracy. There is no doubt about what is happening here today. The last time this happened in Ukraine, in 1943, my grandfather, a private in the Soviet Army, defended Kyiv from the nazis. Today, the nazis are Putin’s troops.
A few days ago, Putin’s soldiers captured the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and Exclusion Zone. My father was a liquidator there and in 1987 he sacrificed his health to clean up the aftermath of the accident, or rather: the consequences of thoughtless Soviet nuclear policy. My father died in 2003. I have dedicated the last twelve years of my life to the exploration of the Exclusion Zone. Now I don’t have it anymore. The Russians took her yesterday.
But we had her once. There will be more beauty when the empire collapses, but it was good too. If you want to read about the beautiful Ukrainian Zone we have lost, I wrote this text under a peaceful sky over Kyiv. Today my words seem like an effort to replicate the past that we have lost. But it’s just for now. Temporarily.