Look, Grandpa! They’re having a big celebration in heaven today!
Author: Larysa Denysenko
Svitlana was sure that she’d give birth to a son. He was so restless and lively in her womb; he was in a hurry to be born. Then, her son’s head appeared and he cried out loudly: “I’m here!” It was impossible to change his diapers; he wanted his arms and legs to be free. A child of Ukrainian independence, born in 1991.
Since childhood, Andriy Tereshchenko lived fast and furious, facing and overcoming challenges throughout his short life.
In his room hangs a framed speeding ticket fine. He wasn’t proud of breaking the law and paid the fine immediately. But, he was bursting to tell everyone that he was able to hit 90 km per hour on the old GAZelle on the main street of his native Cherkasy. And, he pulled his grandfather’s old motorcycle out of storage and coaxed it to ride the streets.
In general, he was good with his hands and could repair or adjust anything. He drove his armoured personnel carrier around like a madman; his comrades said that it was an impossible feat. His armoured personnel carrier even set a record, like an Olympics sprinter! Andriy would speak or argue hotly with his carrier: “You better do as I say, or you’ll end up in the furnace!” In fact, that’s what he said to any vehicle that refused to listen to him. Then, he would cajole it lovingly: “Come on, come on, sweetheart, my honey-bunny, my little sugar pie!”
Andriy took part in the local Maidan, Euromaidan, and then went to serve in the army, the anti-terrorist operation, as it was then called. His friend Ruslan went to Italy; Andriy travelled to eastern Ukraine. The boys left some marks on the balcony where they measured the size of their biceps. They recorded how many more centimetres each man had gained. Here it is – Andriy, 38 centimetres; it’s still here. Oh, to clasp that arm in both hands, lean closer and kiss it gently…
After military service, Andriy wasn’t able to adjust to daily life. The army never left him; it was like yeast in the dough, rising and growing. Thank God, they didn’t accept him in the special ops forces, where he really wanted to serve. One never knows, he may have been ordered to brutally disperse protesters like himself and Slavko on the Maidan, passionate knights of justice. He could never have done that.
He returned from the army one day, looked at his younger sister who was playing with his cars. She always repeated everything that he said, calling him “Diyko”, because she couldn’t pronounce the letter “r”. He tried to teach her, but she wanted to do everything herself, a little tomboy. He was surprised. She was so beautiful, like a fashion model. “Well, well! What’s this we have here? I thought I had a sister, not a brother!” he said.
When an older brother dies, the sister wraps him and herself in a blanket of memory and returns to their childhood. Together, they crawl into bed with their mother, in the morning, on the weekends; barefoot, they tiptoe quietly into the bedroom, lean over and whisper in her ear: “Mom, can we stay with you?”Quiet, warm, they smell of happiness, tossing and turning restlessly.
Svitlana didn’t know that she was pregnant again. In the morning, she stood by the window, combing her long braids; and Andriyko approached, leaned against her stomach and said: “My little Valiushka’s in there.” There was such joy in his eyes.
Twins have an incredibly deep emotional connection. Although Valiusha and “Diyko” were four years apart, if you remembered one of them, suddenly, they both appeared before your very eyes. They were very much alike, completely intertwined. Valia was into gymnastics; she learnt how to do cartwheels and flips; she wanted to reach the podium. Andriy practiced with her and showed her how to wrestle. “Valia, don’t hold back, because it will hurt. Oh, and now you’re much too relaxed, just like a wet rag!” Then he’d take her to the abandoned factory to practice climbing.
There are four photos in the room. It seems to Valia that Andriy hugs and protects her, smiles, does tricks that make him look like a father, calls out and catches the football that might hit her in the forehead.
When the most important people in the family pass away, the family dog sniffs around the house, trying to detect their presence here on Earth and in the heavens.
Here’s Yezlovetta, Zlosia, a German shepherd gifted to Andriy by his girlfriend on March 8 (but the date isn’t important). She stands in the room… joyful, panting heavily, drooling, tongue hanging, squealing plaintively. The dog was the best alarm clock that Andriy ever had, but he hated that, ignored it, pretended never to hear it.
When he was no more, Zlosia was sad; she pulled his things out of his backpack. She lay on his clothes, on the backpack, left a line of tears on the floor, climbed into the closet and sat there. Whenever she saw someone in combat fatigues on the street, she pulled on the leash, barking loudly, jumping wildly, trying to break free. She sniffed around frantically, but couldn’t believe that he was gone, that she could no longer smell his odour.
When Andriy was laid to rest, she was not taken to the cemetery. But, Zloska seemed to know where he was. She yelped helplessly, poking her nose into the ground. Time passed, and there were moments when she felt that Andriy was with her again, running and playing beside her…
November – December 2014. Here he is – Andriy Tereshchenko, alive and well, but with a slight cold. Call sign “Rambo”, mainly because of the sunglasses. Just before going to war, he got into a fight with some guys in the street at night, and so went East with sunglasses hiding a black eye. Of course, those other guys probably suffered a lot more!
Andriy was terribly stubborn. They didn’t want to let him defend Donetsk Airport. “You’re just a kid, and an ordinary mechanic. And, what’s more, you’ve got a cold… go home and lie down.” they said. But, he kept coming back, pushed his way through, insisting: “I should be there!”
December second, winter. Soon, the winter holidays; his favourite day – New Year’s. He remembered how he made a created a Did Moroz from beads. He smiled, because Valiushka finished only one leg and refused to work on the figure anymore. But he, Andriy easily mastered different “feminine” techniques: sewing, weaving, quilting.
St. Nicholas Day! He remembered when his mother gave him two amusing toys. Actually she managed to pull them out of the slot machine; the family had no money, but someone helped them out so that the children wouldn’t be deprived of toys this holiday.
St Andrew’s Day! That’s one of the holidays he loved the most! Evening parties, fortune telling, humorous sayings. Trying to bite off of a small piece of “kalyta” hanging from a ribbon (kalyta-traditional flatbread )! He recalled how he wove a braid from some dough. He recalled his mother’s braids.
He remembered Valiushka. He remembered how they made “snow” in the apartment in the midst of summer. How the concierge urgently summoned their mother to return home. “There’s a layer of thick dust on your floor; your apartment’s a real shitstorm! We’re gonna deprive you of parental rights!” And there, on the floor of their home lay their snow… flour on wet linoleum, ugly gray-brown clumps. It’s snowing again!
Then, two days later – December 4, the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple. A great liturgical feast.
He recalls when his mother told him about the time that he spent with his grandfather at the dacha. His grandfather was angry and distraught, but three-year-old Andriy looked at him calmly and said: “Grandpa, let it go! Today’s a great feast!” Grandpa looked at him in surprise: “What are you talking about? What holiday? How do you know?”
Andriy replied: “I looked at the sky, and I saw such a huge, fantastic celebration up there, Grandpa!” And so it was! Also celebrating Saints Faith, Hope, Love (Vira, Nadiya, Liubov), a group of Christian martyred saints, venerated together with their mother, Saint Sophia (Wisdom). Grandpa stood there, wondering how one could see such things in the sky. But, you can see everything in the sky if the sky lets you…
On the day of the battle, he didn’t want to talk to anybody, didn’t want to lie… because the truth creeps out anyway, and you feel dirty. Anyhow, they didn’t know how to lie in the family. Better not to say anything, bow your head and be silent.
Andriy smiled, recalled his childhood, and how he lied about eating mulberries at school. Then his mother scolded him sharply: “If you lie and cheat, your tongue will turn black!” He ran to the bathroom, stood on a chair, sobbing and brushing his tongue: “I promise I won’t lie anymore! Mom, I promise!”
On December 2, before the violent battle began, he spoke briefly on the phone with his father, but was suddenly cut off… because all hell broke loose. There were no more feasts or saints in the heavens ; they were all here, on Earth.
His friends didn’t know who had been killed by a sniper bullet. At first, he was just the 300th soldier dead. No name. They thought he was still feverish and lying on his cot; he wasn’t supposed to be at Donetsk Airport.
“Rambo”. Andriy Tereshchenko. “Diyko”.
When children die, mothers seem to get pregnant with them again. So as not to grieve, feel lost and devastated, to feel their heartbeat for as long as possible. Tears and cries, the waters break, but only memories are born, memories that can be shown to others and the world like family photos that are carefully selected from a photo album. But, mothers continue to hide their children more deeply in their warm wombs to feel alive again…
“Let me go, Mom, because I’m neither here nor there”. The mother hears this in a dream; she wants to savour her child’s life.
Svitlana enlisted in the Ukrainian army. She recalled how once, a long time ago, on February 23, the children came to congratulate her on the Day of the Defender. Andriy found her military card that she’d long forgotten. She woke up in the morning; it smelled of frosty flowers and coffee. Carnations and coffee from the children: “Mom, you’re our Defender! Congratulations!”
It smells of cloves and coffee, a wintry smell, when the whole country said goodbye to you, Andriy.
Son, your mother is the Warrior now. Mother holds your sword firmly in her hands.
The project is built around 22 individual exhibition stands. In iconic and powerful moments captured by a photographer’s camera – Youry Bilak, a Frenchman of Ukrainian descent – Ukrainian families tell the stories of their loved ones – Ukrainian soldiers who perished in the war. Each narrative, each individual is but one small grain, one tiny unit of a module in a living organism. By telling his story, we bring him back to life.
Each family chose an object that most reminds them of their departed: a father’s jacket, a guitar, a suit of medieval armour, a book. These family artifacts reflect a living continuation of the departed loved one. Ukrainian artists, intellectuals, and journalists were invited to create original texts about each soldier.