BBefore, my wife and I almost never ate bread. At least, if we weren’t in the village where we sometimes spend weekends away from our home in Kyiv. The bread we bought in the village was always better than that in town. In the Ukrainian countryside, there is a long tradition of having a lot of bread on the table and eating it with butter and salt or dipping it in milk. Bread dipped in fresh cow’s milk was also offered to the little kids and they loved it.
Since arriving in western Ukraine, where, like hundreds of thousands of my compatriots, my family has sought relative safety, we find ourselves eating far more bread than before.
Our boys have always loved fresh bread. They like to make and eat sandwiches. In our village shop, we bought our favorite Makariv bread – a soft, white bread in the shape of a brick. It was baked at the famous Makariv bakery which is 20 km from our village. Occasionally you could find this bread in Kiev, but only in small corner shops, not in supermarkets.
I’ve been thinking about this Makariv bread for several days now, remembering the taste. Only now, if I remember correctly, I taste blood on my lips, like when I was a child if someone cut my lip in a fight.
The fact is that the Makariv bakery was bombed a few days ago by Russian troops. The bakers were at work. I can imagine the fragrant smell that surrounded them the moment before the attack. In an instant, 13 bakery workers were killed and nine were injured. And the bakery is no more – “Makariv bread” is a thing of the past.
I have long been at a loss for words to describe the horror Putin brought to Ukrainian soil. Ukraine is the land of bread and wheat. Even in Egypt, bread and cakes are baked with Ukrainian flour. It is the time of year to prepare the fields for sowing, but this work is not done. The soil of the wheat fields is full of metal – fragments of shells, parts of exploded tanks and cars, remains of downed planes and helicopters. And everything is covered in blood. The blood of Russian soldiers who don’t understand why they are fighting, and the blood of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians who know that if they don’t fight, Ukraine will no longer exist. In its place there will be a cemetery with a caretaker’s hut, and some sort of Governor General sent from Russia will sit there and guard it.
Bread was also mixed with blood in Chernihiv when Russian bombers dropped “dumb” unguided bombs on a square next to a bread shop. People lined up outside, waiting to buy fresh, hot bread. Someone was coming out of the store with a bag. Many people died in this bombardment. Amnesty International documented this crime committed by the Russian military. Every day, the list of crimes grows longer as more and more of Putin’s actions are added to it – the murder of young volunteers who were transporting food to the Hostelel dog shelter; the murder of postmen who distributed pensions to the elderly in the Sumy region; the killing of five people in an attack on the Kiev TV tower. The list is lengthened increasingly. We certainly do not yet know all the crimes that have been committed, but we will certainly discover them all, and the list will be presented at a new trial in Nuremberg. It doesn’t matter where it is. The main thing is that we know who will be judged.
International lawyers have already started gathering evidence of crimes. Ukrainians eagerly await the verdict on murderers and war criminals. But for the moment, they must survive under the bombardments of the Russian army. They spend their nights in basements, bomb shelters, bathrooms – the latest advice circulating on the internet tells us that in the event of a bombing, the safest places are inside your bathtub in cast iron or in interior hallways where there are no windows.
The inhabitants of Kiev have suddenly become much more attached to their metro, one of the most beautiful and deepest in the world. The metro is no longer a means of transport, it’s a refuge, like in an apocalyptic film. It is covered in signs of the permanent presence of non-traveling “passengers” and there is living space everywhere. Station platforms are being turned into movie theaters where films are screened for free – films for children in the morning and films for wider audiences later in the day. Big screens have already been hanged or are being hanged in 14 Kiev metro stations. There is a constant supply of tea, the internet is already there, but the connection is poor. There aren’t enough toilets, but people don’t complain about queuing for 40 minutes or more. Everyone waits patiently. They are waiting for the end of the war and the start of the trial – a trial that the whole world will have to watch, as the whole world watched at Nuremberg.
AAnd, in Russia, what do they think of future legal proceedings? I’m afraid they don’t think about it at all. They are now busy buying dollars and euros. Sanctions targeting the banking sector caused a dramatic drop in the value of the ruble, causing panic. Panic is also seen on the Russian-Finnish border, through which many Russians are now trying to leave their homeland. These are the ones who are ashamed to stay in Russia, and the ones who could be drafted into the army, the ones who don’t want to die or don’t want to kill or don’t want to be cannon fodder for the Kremlin.
Some captured Russian soldiers have requested permission to remain permanently in Ukraine. “Prison awaits us if we return!” they say.
On Ukraine’s borders with Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, there are still queues of refugees. Some Ukrainians are said to be trying to leave the country using fake Russian passports. They are the ones who don’t want to fight either. I will not judge them. Let time and history judge everyone. I am glad that in these most difficult times most Ukrainians have maintained their humanity and are trying to help each other. Mobilization has been announced, but no one is forcibly taken into the army. Those who want to defend their homeland themselves go to the military registration and enlistment offices and register. Most often, they are asked to leave a phone number and wait for a call. There are many who want to fight the invaders, but not everyone who wants to fight is truly ready for military action.
Over the past two days, I’ve started to dread Facebook opening. More and more often in the news feed, I see posts from young Ukrainian women declaring their love for their recently killed husbands. I know some of these women and have met their husbands. I cannot read without tears these cries of despair thrown into the bottomless pit of the internet.
But I can’t read them either. I want to see and hear everything that is currently happening in my country. I know that in occupied Melitopol, southern Ukraine, arrests of Crimean Tatar activists and other active citizens have begun. I know that workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant were held inside the plant by the Russian invaders, their cell phones were confiscated and they have not been allowed to leave the plant for over 10 years. a week now. Propagandists from Moscow television went there under the protection of the Russian army to report. I don’t know what they say in Russia about this war, about the captured Chernobyl nuclear power plant, about the captured Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is still in operation. Why do they need this non-military atomic facility? Are they planning to blackmail Ukraine and the world? Why are they bombing hospitals and schools for children? Why destroy the residential areas of Chernihiv, Borodyanka, Kharkiv and Mariupol? Why, after all, are they bombing bakeries and bakeries? I have no answers to these questions.
“You can’t understand Russia with your mind!” wrote the 19th century Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev.
I agree with him, but I still have a question: how can one understand Russia if the mind does not help?