Writer and journalist Kateryna Babkina on how one wants to tell the volunteers on the way to war, “Don’t go,” and to those who refuse, “You have to.”
During my Soviet childhood, filled with heroics of World War II, all of those tales of intelligence, border service dogs, good Czech POW’s which stole floorboards from construction sites and gave them to Ukrainian families for firewood, and even the Nazis that saved multiple Jewish families from concentration camps, I could not understand one simple thing that probably seemed obvious to the rest. In particular, why people went to war.
Despite having one Great Patriotic hero and one of its veterans in our apartment, my grandparents whose skillful and dynamic tales about the war put me to sleep every evening, the propaganda machine did not reach my brain: some metaphoric and priceless Motherland did not sit well with me. In case of emergency it seemed more logical to me to gather my family and go somewhere as far as possible, and never even go near any front, because then who will remain with my family to protect them?
The Motherland as a general construct which required me to lay my life on the line, in this context, seemed to me a crime against those you automatically leave unprotected.
I could not better understand the policies of the advancing side, so every individual gun on the other side – what is the difference whether your country will become greater or richer having conquered half the world if you really have all the chances of dying in the process. I was five. Anything other than the future of a certain individual was incomprehensible to me.
And so I grew up and it turned out that I am a girl and I will not be subject to emergency summons. Therefore I am a journalist and am searching for conscription soldiers with which I could go through the entire process of getting ready to join the army in order to write about it later.
And what happens is that young, strong, healthy Kyiv guys that were active on Maidan and are now collecting money, buying equipment and food, organizing vigils in hospitals and seem to be the best examples of our gene pool, tell me, some directly, some in a veiled fashion, but very clearly: don’t go with my to the military commissariat, Katya, I got summons and you know what Katya? I am going there to buy my way out.
To the first one, I said something like “How can you!” and I questioned the others attentively and carefully, because I suddenly remembered the discussions I had as a child with the people back home that tried to prove to me, so funny, so adult, that this “Motherland” is something that one can go and die for or get maimed. I took everything out of them with my questions, such as “Why should I care whether I have a Motherland if I don’t have both of my legs?” or “Why protect the Motherland, if while defending it a person cannot protect their children, so these children won’t get a chance to live on this Motherland anyway.” Then I had no definite Motherland for some time, as I am from a very Soviet family, and later I consciously chose another one, the one I am living in.
And now the same questions I used to irritate Soviet patriots, my family, are being posed by completely different people to themselves. These people are adults, they are not five years old, and the perspective of war they have is quite solid, and not arbitrary. In other words, it is not just a reason to talk for them. Unfortunately, there are more and more examples of what may happen to them very soon – these examples are standing on crutches in hospitals or remain faces on the photos of post-mortem heroes.
Sometimes I stop my interrogations because I see how everything changes inside the person whom I am constantly asking: “Why are you not going to war?” Personally, of course, I no loner think that in case of danger I have to grab my family and run as far as possible, I have learned quite well that between “run far away” and “take up arms” there is an entire void of conscientious constructive activity. The boys that are seeking ways to avoid mobilization now know this – I am 100% sure. They really do a lot, they are just scared to die from the bullets shot by idiots and mercenaries.
One one hand they have the right to fear death and try to avoid it. On the other, those who have no arms and legs or those who are six feet under had that right as well. On one hand it seems logical to me when army is based on contract and is voluntary, because nobody has ever done anything good against their own will, and on the other, there are moments in life when a volunteer army is insufficient. On one hand, the people who are going there now have to make the decision to die, to some extent, and on the other, if we don’t put things in order there now, who know what else will happen, and whether there might be a chance to die here after some time, not even having made the decision.
All of our limits of normalcy have shifted now. They shifted differently for everyone. In reality, these limits no longer exist.
I want to ask those who are trying to avoid mobilization: “How can you?” or “Who else but you?”, and to those who are volunteering I want to scream: “What are you doing, you’ll get shot!”
These limits were slowly and inevitably approached by an absolutely real threat, its breath stinks of stale blood, and behind its back there are fields of looted human corpses which have nothing to do with this at all. Between myself and this danger there are quite real, and not abstract, acquaintances and friends of mine: cheerful, handsome, tall, with little children and sick kidneys, with their own businesses and stupid jokes, they are standing there and are forced to choose whether to go die for something unclear – as we don’t have a unified sane society, and it is unclear yet for what country – as it has to be dissembled by the brick and assembled again, and it is unclear what we will achieve and when.
And all of them don’t want to go die. And all of them cannot not go. And whatever each one of them chooses, this choice will stay with them for the rest of their lives, and not only theirs, in some sense, in each one of our lives. They will be unable to change their mind, to alter this move into over-responsibility not only for themselves, but for the Motherland, whatever it is.
And in individual cases some of them will be unable to do anything at all, unfortunately.
Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina