If war was no further than seven hours from where you live, the distance between your town and one of the borders of your own country, then perhaps you would understand how Julia and millions of Ukrainians feel right now. On Versus we have already told stories of people forced to get used to alienation or war. Forced to accept war as a fact, something beyond their power. The Ukrainian crisis is perilously sliding into that sort of limbo: everything there seems to stand still, frozen in time after the endless battle in Kiev, waiting for a resolution to the civil war on the Eastern border.
As for now, Julia lives a normal life a few hours away from death and ruin, goes to university, chats on Facebook with us, calls us on Viber and writes us e-mails. The reportage from Ukrainian capital Kiev she kindly sent us shines with disturbing beauty: lifeless ruins on one side while on the other men and pass by, lay flowers, cling together and keep walking. Yet, everything looks helplessly bound to remain still. I asked her how she felt when she saw Kiev like that, and her answer is immediate: “looks like everything has been left like a grievous reminder by thousands of people who are fighting, if they’re still alive, on the Eastern border right now.”
She speaks spontaneously, as if she was in a rush to tell. “Obviously there is no war in Chernivtsi [where she lives], but pictures and stories keep coming in every day. People dying. Ukrainians dying. People we knew, sometimes.
News aren’t always reliable, sometimes the internet is more helpful and allows you to grasp a bit of what’s going on…I don’t know what has Ukraine done to deserve a neighbour like Russia. And, honestly? International diplomacy disappoints me: their job is trying to find a pacific solution to this war, I get it, but that’s simply not possible. How many people have died already? Of course, it’s our government’s fault, in the first place. But innocent children are murdered because of Russia’s despise for our sovereignty, and that’s disgusting. As an Ukrainian, all these people’s deaths are a burden on my conscience and it must be all the more so to those who are still allowing this carnage to carry on».
As we speak, I suddenly picture a gangrenous limb devoid of sensitivity: that’s how East Ukraine sounds in her words. A land left on its own, ignored by the central nervous system and lacking medical assistance. I try to go back to what caused this war in the first place, I ask her if she’s pro-EU and her answer is once again quick and unhesitating: “Of course I am, otherwise what would have been the point of the Maidan uprising? We want to reach a European standard of living, but first and foremost we need to make people in the East get back home safe and sound. Moreover, the separatists’ arguments make no sense. The language business, for instance: it’s been 24 years since Ukraine became independent and nobody ever gave a damn about having one and only official language. It’s just an excuse, a pretext, like all of that complaining about Russian speakers supposedly being in danger: Ukraine has always been democratic about them. Generally speaking, if you’re not happy with your life in a particular country, you are free to leave: love Russia so much? Just get a ticket to Moscow, like thousands of people have always done. Go away and stop bothering those who respect their country.”
by Fabrizio De Gregorio,
pictures by Julia Shkvarchuk
translation by Simone D’Anastasio