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Double Reality

13. Dezember 2014
Von Darya Tsymbalyuk

In May 2013, Darya came back from the USA to her Ukrainian home. In September, she was in Kyiv – the protests on Maidan began two months later. Now Darya's father and her boyfriend are fighting in the East of the country.

This article is also featured on the new TONIC poster N°2, which ties together three texts about the current conflict in Ukraine. You can order it here.

Deutsche Version

This year, fall in Kyiv is violently beautiful. Children play in the park, couples meet for dates, old ladies are reminiscent of their youth. Sunny, peaceful days. Who can believe that somewhere in the East of this country, at this very moment a child can be dying, a young man can be dying, an old lady can be dying?
I do not even need to go that far. Just a couple of kilometres away in a military hospital in the heart of Kyiv, there are people of my age who do not have arms or legs or eyes anymore. Ukraine lives in a double reality.
I was born in 1990. The Ukrainian State was erected in 1991. We are almost the same age. Independent Ukraine has never been in a war state, but the wars of the past always lived somewhere among Ukrainian realities: in stories, in films, in photographs. In my childhood we listened to the stories of WWII veterans and played in a WWII memorial park, climbing rocket launchers and tanks, running through remained trenches. And still, I could never imagine war coming to this place now. Even when I talked to my close friends from Iraq, Palestine and Bosnia later.

Couple of months ago my dad, a retired military officer, decided to go back to the army. He joined an Ukrainian volunteer battalion. He does not tell me much about his unit. The one thing I know is that there are volunteer soldiers of all professions: vets, lawyers, construction workers. There are people who are much older than my father – but also such who are even younger than me. My father does not call me very often; and when he does, he never answers my questions, just saying that everything is okay.

Meanwhile, I speak nothing but Ukrainian.

It will soon be a year since Maidan revolution. One year ago around this time, I came back from studying abroad and moved to Kyiv. I knew noone at Kyiv when the revolution started. I was never interested in politics. But for some reason I went to a rally on November 24, 2013. Since that day I spent almost every day on Maidan. It became my home, my family, my friend. It was a gallery, a library, concert hall, house of prayer, of grief, hope, and freedom.
In spring, when the conflict in the East of Ukraine started, most of my Maidan friends and my boyfriend among them joined volunteer battalions. And left. I stayed in Kyiv.

I grew up in the South of Ukraine – speaking Russian. Meanwhile, I speak nothing but Ukrainian. My mother is Russian, she studied Russian literature and language in Moscow. Exactly as her mother did. My dad was born and raised in Moscow. My parents met there and got married. My grandmother and my uncle still live there today. When I was small, we used to drive long hours up north to Russia. Despite the language we speak and the cities my parents were born in, my family is Ukrainian. Because being Ukrainian is not about a geographical or linguistic belonging.
Soon, Maidan was demolished. The places that were soaked in blood and memories of people brave enough to be free were gone. Some art pieces I painted on doors and tents were ruined. Maybe it was time for Maidan to go. Bulldozers prepared the square for military parades.
It happened on Independence day, August 24. Nobody felt cheerful to celebrate. The war kept raging. Soldiers in the East kept begging for heavy weaponry, but the heavy weaponry available was being presented to the crowd on a parade in Kiev. I got a call with the news that one of my best Maidan friends was killed in the East.

In front of the screen: Who survived?

One week later my boyfriend’s battalion got encircled by pro-Russian terrorists* and Russian soldiers. He and his fellows were exhausted, depleted of food and weapons. The Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko asked for a humanitarian corridor. It was shot. 300 people died for sure, but some commanders say that the number goes up to 1.000. Many bodies are still not found because the territory is controlled by terrorists.
And then there was silence. Silence in the news. Silence of mobile phones. And just panic and despair of relatives who did not know if their fathers, sons, husbands, brothers were alive. I spent nights in front of a computer screen hoping to get some information from somebody. Who has survived?
Some days later I saw my boyfriend on a Russian TV channel. He was among war prisoners. Ever since then for more than three months he has been kept by terrorists, and I have been trying to do everything to get him out. But there is so little I can do.
This weekend, I will go to the park for a walk. I will walk the path all the way down to the lake. And while contemplating the beauty of nature, I will not be able to forget that my peaceful days can be so quiet just because someone else is sacrificing health and life for us all to be able to walk through parks. Without fearing bombs. Today and tomorrow. Not only in Ukraine.

* German media mostly call "pro-Russian separatists" what are terrorists for Darya. In contrast, Russian news mention Opolcheniye (people's militia) or the forces of Novorossiya (New Russia). Exact naming is not just difficult because of inherent judgements, but also because there are multiple different groups fighting on each side.


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