a Kind of Refugee / 03.07.2022
It’s a good morning when you wake up to the sound of your alarm clock.
Not like the other day, when I felt a light burst of air through the open window along with the sound, loud enough that, still practically asleep, I moved into the hall (between thick weight-bearing walls) and then wondered, I can probably go back to bed, right?
The next morning I am trained. I know the jarring sound and sensation that wakes me is not a threat to my life so I stay in bed. Listening to the second one, the third, fourth… with curiosity. One of the explosions is not as low and deep as the others: does that mean it’s from a different kind of rocket? After the sixth I’m dozing off again. Then the seventh. Now my body is alert; forget about going back to sleep. Eight. Nine. Ten. All this lasts half an hour. All before 7 am.
2800 cruise missiles, said Zelensky, sent by Russia into Ukraine. That was last week. 50+ were launched in one night and the next morning my friend said our anti-aircraft defense destroyed 30% of them. 30%, he said, is fantastic! In civilian life he was a commercial airline pilot. Now he flies drones for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
My friend from the US says, “Things are really heating up in the south. Why don’t you just stay in Lviv and wait it out?”
“Wait what out?” I reply. With indignation. As if an intensification in Russian cruise missile strikes on Mykolaiv were like a thunderstorm you just need to shelter from until the weather system moves on. As if I hadn’t experienced nearby missile strikes the last time I was in Kyiv or back in the days when I was a refugee in Lviv.
“Wait what out?” is my astonishment at an insinuation that this war is some kind of conflict between two parties who just need some time to hash it out and then the air will cool and we can go back to… what? In this exchange she and I cannot possibly be talking about the same thing.
As I lie in bed listening to explosions it’s clear there is still a lot of space between them and my body. Space for living as long as I am alive. This fundamental visceral understanding does not intersect with discourse based on risk assessment. Who cares if there is a greater statistical probability of me being struck by a missile in Mykolaiv than in Lviv? The only thing that matters is whether or not I am actually struck by a missile. Which could happen while you’re shopping at the mall in Kremenchuk.
I don’t lose sleep calculating my chances of dying from an airstrike. No, it’s you my friends, wherever you are, that I worry about. I worry that by the time you start to sense the urgency of stopping russia so many Ukrainian cities will be razed and so many Ukrainian people will be gone or maimed or psychically shattered.
It’s obvious that Ukraine is facing an existential threat. Every day russia is destroying the matter of Ukrainian life. Russia is bent on obliterating Ukraine as such. But have you not noticed that russia—beginning with its covert invasion of Crimea in 2014 (if we stick to the context of Ukraine)—has been challenging and eroding the very agreements / conventions / institutions that Western international politics has relied on to support the existing global world order?
Do you not see the existential threat to that global world order and the values it stands on? Do you not care that those values actually be values and not mere words? Even if you think that order was flimsy and in need of rethinking, where are you in this picture?
You cannot be a bystander.
How can I help you understand this?
Lviv is now a hot destination for Americans who want to understand better what is happening in Ukraine through their own experience. I can say as much for my friends.
After a long and tiring trip from a city where half the population has left and half of those that remain are in fatigues, I meet my American friends in a city that seems to have forgotten about the war. There is a chasm between my unyielding sense of urgency and their unspoken expectation that we communicate in a way and pace carried over from peacetime.
It is only natural that we should be in different states, at different speeds. I remember going to Warsaw in March and struggling to tune to my dear old friend who had not had the visceral experience of russian attack. March was a time when the war in Ukraine was still in a crisis phase, when any number of factors from any direction could have influenced the development of the situation and people still imagined a swift end.
Ukraine withstood that period and is still fighting, four months strong. Ukraine has won the respect of countries and people all over the world. Ukraine will not give in or cede its territory or freedom. This is a war with two clear sides; it will be fought until one wins.
And the fight takes energy, attention, resources. I don’t have the same reserves to share with every person who asks. I am now well-practiced in triage. So it does not perturb me when my friends are equally blunt about how much time and attention they can spare me. What matters is a kind of congruence—of words and deeds, presence and presence, principles and action. You can feel who is on your side and we support one another; this too is energy well spent.
I am okay. In fact, in the evening after a run with my warfriend that ends sitting on the beach watching the sky turn colors over the water, I am more than okay. I’ve found a person with whom I can relax. A person who challenges my patience, nerves and mental quickness when we need to work together. But with whom I’m training and expanding my capacity for quickly identifying the matter of importance and letting everything else go. Not in a rush or rushing ahead. All in its own time and true to the moment.
Being alone in wartime is almost unnatural. Am I less afraid to die if there are others by my side? Is being amongst people—seeing and being seen—a way of asserting and sharing my being alive? I’ve found friends who place a greater value on the quality of life, on living intensely, than on the fact of life itself.
Still, I am disturbed by the sound of explosions. Especially when they come from the direction of the base where my friends are stationed. I am grateful for every moment that they are alive, that all their limbs are intact, for every time I get to hug each one.
Ukraine is doing its damnedest to win this war.
But it cannot do it alone.
You can help.
You can be slow. You can make mistakes. You can fumble. All these things are human and inevitable, even if they cost you the success of some part of your mission. But you must stick with the mission. You cannot leave it to somebody else to do for you. When you say, “Not my problem!” then Evil steps in, smiles and gets to work.
PS I am directing all my resources and networks now toward raising funds to buy a Ukrainian-made Furia unmanned aerial system for those above-mentioned friends of mine. It includes three drones and a ground control system that can cover a greater range of territory (i.e. fly further past enemy lines) than mass-market quadcopters to provide information about enemy positions.
Please send dollars via paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More info: https://heroesukraine.org/en/a1-cm-furia-uav-system-for-the-sof-center-for-technical-solutions/
*If you would like to organize a fundraiser for one of your communities, please write to me. I can tell you more about the Furia and who it’s for.
Thanks for reading a Kind of Refugee! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.