This time, it’s a screenshot of a WhatApp message that freezes my stomach with dread and makes me want to vomit. It happens regularly now. Sometimes only from thought, other times it’s an image.
It’s a message from a family member in Russia, in the previously beloved Saint Petersburg. Before, a video sent – young men in uniform, paraded down a street. It’s incredible how a video without context or attribution strikes dread and suspicion. We are living in a time capsule now. Who ever thought this would happen again, times of deprivation, suspicion, the loss of right to question or protest. Who knew families would call from one nation to another, and say, they are being bombed, and fleeing, and the voice on the other side, incredulous, tells them they are lying.
I don’t see the full conversation, only the section that accuses Ukrainians of slaughtering civilians in Donbass for 8 years. Some of the repeated lines – variations of words I have read from other family members in Russia “You don’t know it” “The West is only told part of the story”.
On both sides of this conversation, we are incredulous, shaking with rage and disbelief. At first, I was afraid to send photos of Ukrainian children, women, men, civilians, doused in the blue antiseptic liquid after shrapnel broke their bodes. Blood and broken glass. A car with a white flag and “children inside” written on the side, pocked with bullets. Or the thousands lunging toward a train, desperate for escape, carrying animals, even bunnies, cats outside of carriers. These are scenes of a history we did not want to live through, scenes we know from history books. Now I don’t send those photos and reports because it will be called a lie.
I thought at first, how terrible, they are prevented from seeing what their country is inflicting – the outrage and disbelief, it must weigh like lead in every pore. And then I know it is a place where in living history, ordinary civilians, neighbours, sent to gulags and work camps, and the populace remains quiet – must do so, to prevent their own fate.
I read once that a country is not its government. How hard that is to see right now.
My blood is conflicted. I am Russian, Belarussian, Ukrainian. My own coloniser, my own invader, my own enemy, my own traitor.
I began to write, on 27 February 2022, and could not go more than this:
The poison of a place once loved
In a small house Brovary outside Kiev,
Wooden logs in colours red, blue and yellow – tell me sisters, which was which
Before we were scattered across the world
And it is too painful to think of a house built in a village called Brovary, not too far from Ukraine’s capital Kiev, built after the second world war, built by the hands of my great-grandmother, who endured the unthinkable, and where my grandfather later fashioned charming seats from tree stumps in three colours: one for me, my sister, and my cousin, places as we grew, we would never return.
The knowledge of language, of a tongue that feels traitorous and ugly. Take it out.
The revulsion and horror, even writing these words, instilling paranoia – if they read it, I will never return. It is gone to me.
And here I am, safe. It is raining. Sydney. Autumn. I can disown everything.
So many of us have broken hearts even at this distance, and we are not being bombed.