Artem Chekh | In Kyiv · LRB 18 March 2022

I wouldn’t say I didn’t believe it. I just didn’t want to believe. First of all, I didn’t want to break the order of my quiet everyday life. A workout in the morning, a book and a glass of wine in the evening. Talking to my wife. Friends coming round for dinner. And then this world collapsed like a house of cards.

The first days were very difficult. I felt only numbness. The hardest thing was my son’s panic attacks, when he heard another siren, hastily put on his shoes, forgot about socks, trembled with fear and shouted at us: ‘Quick! Hurry to the shelter!’

I spent three days on the road to join my old military unit but when I got there I couldn’t register, there were too many contenders. So I met my comrades, spent the night in an empty barracks and came back to Kyiv. I felt terrible. It seemed that everyone around was already fighting and I still didn’t have a weapon in my hands. My apartment was also empty – my wife and son had left the city safely.

How much time has passed since then? It seems a lifetime. Now I’m armed and alongside people who are ready to defend the capital of Ukraine. We spend all day strengthening our positions, preparing for possible attacks. Civilians help us with food, equipment, medicine, transport.

A man named Victor is sleeping next to me. He is over sixty, a worker from the Kyiv suburbs. He has a moustache, calluses, grey hair. In the late 1980s he had some military experience, so he knows something about weapons and fortifications. In his downtime, however, Victor is constantly watching news on YouTube, which I find really annoying. When I ask him to use headphones he smiles good-naturedly: thank you, I’m fine.

As well as Victor, there are a music producer, an owner of a household chemicals store, a teacher, an artist, a bank clerk, a former investigator, a doctor. The ability to write, paint, act, play a musical instrument or dance doesn’t matter now. What counts is military experience, the fact that you’ve been in similar circumstances and can act quickly if needed. And not only quickly, but precisely.

Nobody knows what will happen next. But we are here. Thousands of us. Or even millions of us. The shock of the first weeks of the war is over. There is no other way back. We will resist and fight for our right to live in a free Ukraine, to bring our children up and let them sleep in their beds, not bomb shelters, to rebuild our cities, to have some time for writing, a workout in the morning, a book and a glass of wine in the evening.

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