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Serhiy Zhadan: “Give us strength!”

Article by: Serhiy Zhadan – poet, writer, translator, public activist
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
How many strong people have faded away like stars during these difficult years? How many have fallen silent? How many have stepped aside? What was lacking? What was missing in their lives? Hope? Faith? Support?

A quiet yard, a high brick fence. Silent figures, no one speaks. A long silence, smoking and meditation, some voices from the street. My friend sits opposite me, trying to speak calmly and confidently, though it doesn’t turn out that way. I pretend everything’s OK. In such situations, it’s better to pretend that everything’s fine. Even though he looks so tired, so pale and ill. Cheerful voices in the nearby street, but here… silence, nicotine and peace. It’s the psychiatric ward of a military hospital. We sit and talk about religion. But, it doesn’t turn out very well…

It’s getting harder and harder to observe this all-invasive fatigue. They’re adults, intelligent and confident grown-ups. But, so tired of life, tired of everything and even tired of themselves. You never know how to act when confronted with someone’s despair, with someone’s anguish and pain. No one is ever ready for this; seeing such weakness in others is always overwhelming. You pick words, offer support and assistance, although words are so difficult to find in such cases. What words can inspire us and bring us hope? What gives us confidence? I honestly don’t know. Although I would like to know. I really would.

I know what’s behind his glassy dead eyes. The winter of 2014, Kyiv, Hrushevskoho Street. Then spring, the Donbas and war. In fact, five years of war, a war that beckoned to him, then released him. The exhaustion began and grew stronger. At some point, it engulfed him. Something was missing. What exactly? Strength, focus, support? Hard to say. Life experiences destroy us in different ways. Life approaches each one of us, but so differently.

I’ve never stopped hearing the same stories. Years of confrontation, fighting and resistance often result in burnout and internal devastation. We don’t always have enough hope and faith to speak out convincingly; our confidence has limited resources, and we’re not always able to use them. How many strong individuals full of hope and perseverance, wonderful people that you’ve known for so many years, have faded away like stars? How many have fallen silent? How many have turned aside? How many are no more? Some had no patience, others lacked love. Love… first and foremost.

What causes us to break down? The source of a person’s strength can be faith, hope, and even hatred. In the same way, anything can affect us and lead to ultimate despair. The main point here is to have someone nearby, someone who can offer support, who can share your hopes. Who will help you stay strong, be yourself.

We hold on to our inner strength, we count on it, we try to control it. It’s inside us, it belongs to us. But, strength also means not being afraid to share our weaknesses, to stand up and talk about them, to ask for support. After all, the most accessible source of strength is the one you can rely on. This is a simple fact that we all tend to forget. And, we’re often too scared to ask for help. Isn’t asking for help a testimony of our own weakness? And, is there nothing more hopeless than admitting one’s own weakness? Even if this weakness is temporary and completely understandable?

So, who can you share important things with? Who can you be yourself with? By and large, we continuously search for “our kind of people”, persons we can identify with. I understand that separating “our kind” from the others testifies to these troubled and not so simple times, when the need for like-minded people is so important. Another thing… Are we really capable and willing to welcome “our own people”, to take certain steps towards them, to speak first, without being afraid of losing our ideals and principles, without being afraid of appearing weak? In fact, do we have the strength today not to be afraid of being honest, not to be afraid of sharing what we really believe in? Distrust weakens us, renders us defenseless, and deprives us of a certain balance. We all know that, right? We know that, but still don’t trust anyone.

Another point. I often say “we”. I know this annoys some people, but I’ll continue to say “we”. I’m not trying to hide behind someone’s back, and neither am I speaking on someone’s behalf. I just like feeling that I’m part of this community – a community that’s building and creating something, a community that’s striving to preserve a country, a community that resists and refuses to give up. I’m fortunate to live among such people; it’s a generous gift of fate. Despite the fact that the circumstances, in which this community was created and shaped, are far from joyful, despite the fact that death is an integral part of our lives, despite the fact that we see this fatigue, anger and nervosity everywhere. Despite all this, I’m happy to be one of them, to live together with them here and now. This is what makes us stronger – the presence of like-minded people who are stubbornly and persistently changing the world, making it a little more acceptable. I enjoy being with them, as we speak the same language. Does it sound slightly pretentious? Well, I guess so. But, this is one thing many of us have stopped hiding these past few years – a sincerity that is often confused with pretension, an openness that we refuse to minimize through irony. Let’s be pretentious and demanding! I’m all for it!

Today, this is the most important thing that we have – a sense of our own being, a sense of commonality, both of which are worthy of our stubborn resistance and our disappointments, which we’re ready to hold on to the very last, which we cannot live without. This gives me the strength and understanding that I’m not alone; I am alive thanks to some persons that I trust, with whom I can speak both seriously and honestly. In fact, they’re teaching me how to speak seriously and honestly. This seems to be a simple skill, but it’s often lacking. Talking and listening. Even when you don’t have enough strength to speak out confidently and believe everything that you’ve heard.

There are actually a lot of such people around. There are enough of them to help us survive and win. They haven’t disappeared, they’re still here. People with tired eyes, people with strong words, people who know it’s important to stay strong. Especially today. Especially here in our country, under this blue sky, in this space…

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
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