Ukraine | Teen Ink

"Wake Up, The War Is Here"

 

Teen Ink is working with TeenSide, a youth editorial organization based in Kyiv, Ukraine, to publish firsthand written accounts of life as a young adult during the war with Russia. Through this project, TeenSide aims to provide the world with real stories of real people — stories that one may not get to hear in the news or from political experts. The young authors who are writing these accounts are part of a unique demographic in Ukraine — a generation born into an independent country, one that has never experienced life under Russian rule. 

"'Wake up, the war is here' is a project meant to help Ukrainian youth share their experience of war through literature. We give young authors an opportunity to work with editors, translators and illustrators to perfect their stories and creative writing skills," writes Kateryna Kishchynska.

The series collects, translates, and shares with the world documentary stories written by the teens and young adults of Ukraine, who are now living through the war. It is run by the Ukrainian cultural organization "withoutgaps" and the youth editorial team "TeenSide."

You can contact them at teenside.home@gmail.com, or on Instagram @teenside_bezprobiliv.

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5 MONTHS 

By Sofiia Turanska, 17

Illustration by Jozzy (@jozzyxoxoxo)
***

In four months I learned a lot.

I learned that hedgehogs could be anti-tank. Sometimes they are quite small and sometimes big, almost as tall as I am. They are old and rusted. Mum said they were pulled from the World War Two museum.

Now I know what an air defense system sounds like and how that sound differs from explosions. I know what shelling is. It turns out you get used to sirens and explosions. Though, one night I heard the siren and felt scared like it was the first time. After that I couldn't get back to sleep for a long time. If you don’t get used to this, living just becomes impossible.

Because of the war I know which houses in my neighborhood have a bomb shelter. Mine doesn’t. Also, I learned what a contusion is. Contusion became my new fear.

I was scared to go outside, to listen to music with both headphones in, and to read the news.

I remembered how fast shops can run out of products, how long lines in the pharmacy can be — from the beginning of the pandemic, a time I’ve long forgotten. It turns out that goods disappear for a long time.

I saw how many corpses can fit in a social media feed.

I saw how dead and quiet the capital can be. My Kyiv. From the metro car, I saw for the first time the empty Khreschatyk station where there is usually a crowd. It seemed ghostly as if abandoned. The metro train didn’t stop at the station, drove past it. Through the glass of a car window, it seemed unreachable. 

After the liberation of the Kyiv region life circulates through the city’s veins again, and everything starts to work, to open up. Little by little. But the Khreschatyk station in the city center still doesn’t work. People сommute to their destinations going around Khreschatyk because no one can stop Kyiv’s flow. Yet something faded at the very heart of the city — darkened in my heart too. Of course, someday it’ll work again, but until then all will ache.

I still can’t figure out, Kyiv, have you just woken up, half asleep, drowsy, or are you half alive, scarred, wounded? What will you become?

At the beginning of the war, I slept in outside clothes. I had an assembled emergency backpack, mum didn’t. And mum always slept in her pajamas.

I found out that the war had begun from Asya — a woman who does illustrations for our Instagram. She called from Poland through Telegram at six in the morning. Called to say that the war has started in Ukraine. Asya sent me news, videos, and a lot of other information but at six in the morning, processes ran very slowly in my head. At six in the morning, it wasn’t very clear to me what “the war has started” meant but I understood that I needed to wake mum up and that she'd get mad because I woke her up very early.

As I sat and thought about what do I say to mum I heard explosions. When I woke mum up everything went quiet.

Mum turned on the news. On TV, hosts were standing and evening out their stacks of paper. Probably it was the text they were supposed to read. One host said, “We start in a few minutes.” It felt like they had woken up when we turned on the TV and now they were trying to hastily get ready. Little lost people inside the TV. 

Since then I haven’t cried. Somehow it’s like that. Can’t cry. My organism automatically has gone into alertness mode in a stressful situation. No tears run from my eyes but I cry inside. Mutely and dry.

That night when they bombed Lukyanivka nothing was clear, explosions were heard all around the city. My friends on the other end of Kyiv also woke up. They texted me that they loved me. Just in case. I was scared they were going to die. 

My mum also woke up that night. I suggested that she should go to the bathroom and sit there. She said she’ll go back to sleep and that I can go to the bathroom, it’s safer there. I went. Sat for a few minutes and went back to my bed. I thought about how stupid it would be if my mum died and I survived because I was hiding in the bathroom. Really stupid. I wasn’t very frightened by the thought that I might die. If I die, I die. But if my mum, my friends die, I’d have to keep living. That is scary. Other than that, it's not scary at all.

Nowadays my emergency backpack is disassembled, I sleep in my pajamas. And the war still goes on.

Of course, many good things also happened in four months.

Easter. Long night talks on the phone with the sounds of explosions outside the window. Birthdays. We walked around a lake, sat on fresh green grass, ate pizza, and in the background the siren went off. There are a lot of good things. My friends, it seems, are safe, I sleep, eat, study, read, and watch movies. I already finished school. I’m going to enroll.

And in the background, the war still goes on.

In general, there was, is, and will be a lot of good.

But I don’t want to write about the good.

I wasn’t very frightened by the thought that I might die. If I die, I die. But if my mum, my friends die, I’d have to keep living. That is scary. Other than that, it's not scary at all.

Inside me, the pain buzzes. No matter how much it seems that I got used to it. No matter how much I try to live “normally” like before, to do the usual things. To preserve sanity it’s advised to do the usual, mundane things — work, study, drink coffee in a cafe near the house, draw, do sports. But it doesn’t help. Every day it is as if I try to walk past my pain. Still, no matter how much you turn away, how much you run, it exists. I stick to it with the corner of my eye. The pain sits where my field of vision almost ends. Sits. Buzzes. Spreads out in circles. 

Yes, everything will end and we’ll have to rebuild the country. That I understand. But what should we do with this pain inside? Get treated, talk, mourn, rejoice, yes, I know.

You’ll just have to keep living.

But after this, how do you live?

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SILENCE 

By Inha Marchenko, 16

Illustration by Anastasiia Bondarenko

***

“Inha stay home don't go anywhere,” says a text message at 7 AM. Then, a missed call.

That message was the first thing I saw that morning.

“Don’t freak out”
“The war is here”
“They’ve been bombing Ukraine since 5”

This had to be a joke, or an overstatement, or a misunderstanding, or a dream, anything but reality. I woke my sister up. I called my mom, and asked where she was, and cried.

I think our mom and dad went to buy food and meds. I think I got a text from an American friend. He said he was sorry. I think everyone started saying they were sorry.

I didn’t understand much; I read messages and listened to stories of those who woke up to air raid sirens or explosions. I think I was the only one who slept right through the whole night. Thanks to my antidepressants.

There’s a lot more of what I think happened, than what I remember happened. My doctor says it’s dissociation. It’s like there’s a wall between my memory and reality. It protects me, keeping the worst things out of my view.

It got worse as the evening came. It felt like the previously unfamiliar sounds of explosion were rapidly closing in, creeping up behind us. We started packing our things, just in case. We packed suitcases and bags and backpacks. It felt like, if we were going to go to a shelter, we would stay there forever. Darkness brought fear, fear that you can’t cover with sticky tape as we did with window panes.Around midnight, I finally ate something. It turned out that eating is really, really important. As well as watching something besides the news, trying to speak, chatting with people, walking around. Our parents and grandpa went to bed, but I couldn’t. I felt it, just there outside the window. The beast. Bringing panic, forcing us to stay home; then moving away briefly, giving us a chance to escape. I felt like this was my chance to run away. I wasn’t sure what from.

I think I got a text from an American friend. He said he was sorry. I think everyone started saying they were sorry.

I remember the first time I heard the explosions. There were three. They went off at 04:19 in the morning; at 04:22, I was waking the whole family up. That was the first night in a couple of months that I didn’t take my meds. That was a night when I didn’t sleep for a minute. That was a night when I was alone, as everyone else decided to go back to sleep. That was the longest night of my life. That night still isn’t over.

Around 7 AM, I heard my first sirens. I hear them constantly now, a couple of times every day. I fall asleep to them, and I wake up to them. The world around me is blurry, it’s foggy, like when you have an anxiety attack. It was then that we finally decided to go to the shelter. We put our things down on the floor of the underground parking garage, and something new emerged, something hiding inside every loud noise. I lay down in my jacket, a comfy pullover and my jeans that I wouldn’t take off the whole next week. I stared at a car tire and I kept saying, quietly, “It’s okay”.

When we returned to the apartment, it was really our home; same as before, no shattered windows, no walls broken down like I had imagined. I looked in the bathroom mirror; I saw my body different, a little smaller, a little thinner. I didn’t eat for nine hours, didn’t sleep during the day, skipped my meds again. We only stayed home for half an hour before the next sirens went off. We walked to the shelter for the second time, along with our neighbours. It felt like I was the only one who wasn’t okay. It felt like the explosions had found their way in and were now inside. I had flashes in my eyes. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like the air itself, and the people around me, and the concrete walls, everything was against me. I threw up bile on the lawn of this fancy building with underground parking. I felt a bit better afterwards. We found the same spot where we stayed the previous time. I laid down on a blanket and started into the wall; the car from before was gone.

That day, we went down into the shelter four or five more times, and then the night came, and we stayed home. I finally took my medicine and went to sleep inside our bathtub. Before falling asleep, I prayed for the first time in my life. I begged for everyone to stay alive and thanked our army for me being able to sleep and eat. I spent the next night in the bathtub as well. After that, I moved to the floor of our corridor. They say it's the safest place in most apartments. The corridor became our new little home where we ate, and read the news, and slept and stayed in hiding.

There was a night when the explosions got extremely loud. It felt like a missile hit our own building. I texted a friend then, saying that I loved her and would always love her. And then, there was silence.

As the daytime came, the silence exploded with more missiles, the sirens, the news, the calls and the texts, the terror, the anxiety, and the pain and the anger. In the end, we decided to run away. To leave our home. We got everything that could fit in the car. I think I didn’t make my bed. I think I left my sweaters lying around on the floor. I think the sticky tape is still on the window panes. I think the little magnets on our fridge are still in an uneven heart shape. I used to know exactly which shelf my favourite book was on; I’m not sure about that anymore.

The silence turned out to be that beast that never sleeps. It’s a predator you recognize by the growl of the loudspeakers. Even when you hide behind walls, the beast follows. You can only hope; hope that it doesn’t break into your home, break down the walls, and shatter the windows. Hope that it stays contained within your dreams, and loud noises, and memories.

For more, contact the organization at teenside.home@gmail.com, or on Instagram @teenside_bezprobiliv.