a Kind of Refugee / 15.04.2022
fear for my own safety is attached to my sense of connection to other people. like it’s my responsibility to them to remain unharmed.
alone in my apartment, listening to the wind, i am not afraid.
i remember that being open is something i can do, shifting the state of my body, relaxing to listen and take in and meet whatever is around me. the wind blows in gusts, shaking the metal casing of the balcony. it sounds different in the overall silence of the city. there is no human activity to absorb and dampen its power.
spring sunshine in Kyiv and people are walking around outside, even during the air raid siren—warm, radiant, defiant.
back in February, as Russian troops were massing at Ukraine’s borders and international correspondents were amassing in Kyiv, my friends and i were sitting in the kitchen and talking about how Ukrainians — now in the spotlight — have to speak. and show the world who we are.
to say Ukraine is defying Russia no longer makes sense. for that stands on an assumption, the Russian assumption, that Ukraine somehow belongs to it. but if we think back just a few months, the West also seemed ready to help Ukraine ease into a kind of submission that would restore the supposed global security order. Ukraine defied Western expectations too.
the choice between subjugation to Russia or obedience to the West was never a particularly palatable one. and so Ukraine just plodded along ambiguously, neither here nor there, but “not dead yet.”
under increasing pressure and finding no safe path or protection Ukraine began to fight. Ukrainians have been fighting valiantly and together, with the army doing its job and the citizenry doing anything to support them (from reporting on the positions of enemy troops, to taking down road signs, to feeding, outfitting and supplying our defenders).
Ukraine has shown itself to be daring, tireless and staunch.
Ukraine doesn’t have philosophy. Ukrainians of the intellectual and cultural class tend toward abstraction and imitation, as if it were enough to utter the right words and phrases, study european languages, and maintain strategic personal connections. while other Ukrainians are so bound to their homes and communities that they don’t know how to survive let alone think independently.
but Ukrainians have the audacity to do things. without asking. without thinking too far ahead. without mapping out in their imaginations how it will work or endure in the long run. this great energy to do something fully in the moment is a basis for glory.
i remember preparing for an evening performance with my Ukrainian dance colleagues in 2008: one starts cutting the sheets of paper we were to hand out as programs in half with scissors. by hand. “you can’t do that!” i cry out. the offices where i had always worked had precision paper cutters or at least you take a ruler to measure and draw a straight line. “why not?” she replies and keeps on cutting.
the Ukrainians i consort with today, whether those artists in Kyiv or the volunteers in Lviv or the veterans from Mykolaiv, regularly defy the limits of my imagination. we argue, get emotional, sometimes i walk away in sheer exasperation. then i come back. because there is something fascinating in that drive, in the way that their intelligence operates—not where i expect to find it, but some other way that forces me to reconsider how i understand intelligence, seriousness, commitment.
i can only imagine what the US state department or department of defense has been through over these past months. i’m sure they would have preferred Ukraine’s demure self-amputation of chunks of its territory through a process of negotiation.
instead we too (everywhere) must quickly adopt this sense of exigency that keeps returning you to the present moment, where the nearness of death makes you appreciate being alive, which a person who has lived only in “peace” could never know.
if Ukraine has “spoken” through action, it is still important to not confuse action and activity. the latter is the coordinated movement of a swarm of ants (with delicate communication, each member doing its part for the good of the group). activity feels good—the movement, the cooperation, the sense of purpose that is bounded to specific tasks, goals and challenges (that can be met, accomplished and appraised).
i’ve also witnessed Ukrainian moments of glory fall. this is characteristic of our recent history.
we can’t wait until the war is won to discover and cement the foundations that support this constant movement. what does Ukrainian glory stand on? national identity? our land? our language? our people, who are finally learning to imagine themselves as something more than their ethnic origins? identity is now determined in action.
the need to fortify something from below is different from close the sky, gimme shelter, or even building institutional structures that will continue to stand when the activists get tired.
this is about ground.
it is already there.
but we need to see it and feel it supporting our weight as we stand.
we need to examine it, dig in, and know whose bodies were buried in it.
we need to know what grows in it and what does not.
we need to say what we’ve done on this ground.
these things matter.
PS Bohdan Kordoba is purchasing items needed by the sappers (combat engineers) that have been meticulously combing the towns and villages in the Kyiv region to deactivate and destroy the inumberable mines and other explosive devices left by the retreating Russians. You may send money via paypal: email@example.com
Please specify “for sappers” in the note.