“Dearest daughter, it’s total Hell. Death is everywhere” – Ukrainian father on the frontline

 

First-hand accounts

Article by: Glib Bitiukov
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
“I haven’t seen you for so, so long,” writes Ukrainian father and frontline medic Glib Bitiukov to his daughter.

“I’ve forgotten what you smell like. I remember your lovely ringing laugh. I remember our house, how you hugged me in the morning, how we made breakfast together and then watched cartoons. Somewhere far away, I see our sun-drenched terrace filled with the radiant colors of different flowers. But I must stay here for now – amidst shooting, explosions, hospital beds, and endless pain.

I will defend and protect [our country] so that you have a place to return to, a place to live. Then, you can stand up and say proudly: “This is what my dad did for me!”

Dearest daughter,

I’m writing to you from a distant place where the sky and the earth are ablaze with savage flames, where life has almost disappeared, where death is everywhere. The only thing that keeps me going is you. Memories of you; memories that fade into the background and break against the rocks of death surrounding us.

Recently, the distance between us has increased even more. A kaleidoscope of monotonous roads separates us. Everything that was long forgotten – war, endless roads – has resurfaced in my life, like a déjà vu. But, you are now a part of it. You are like a magnet, pulling me back into your small gentle arms.

This place is total Hell. Here you appreciate things that you never noticed in normal life – an ordinary mug filled with water, the chance to take a shower, two minutes of silence.
Ukrainian father on the frontline

Photo: Ministry of Defense of Ukraine

In the past few months, I’ve come to a most unexpected and candid conclusion – the absence of self, there is no Me. Anywhere and everywhere. Starting from my personal space, which has been reduced to ​​two square meters with a camping mat and a sleeping bag, to the fleeting passage of time, which has ceased to exist. Yes, it’s as if I’ve dissolved into whatever surrounds me, as if I’m neither here nor there. I’ve lost my sense of self. I no longer know who I am or where I am, where I’m going, and whether there’s a final destination on this path.

Time is reduced to one day at a time. I no longer belong to myself, neither in space nor in time. Time exists somewhere beyond me. Time and I are like two parallel planes that never intersect. Morning and evening come and go, but there’s no difference between them. I’m trapped in a place akin to Alice’s Wonderland, but I’m just a dot on the map.

There are a lot of other people here. Too many people. I want to hide and not talk to anyone. In such moments, it’s only my lovable big dog that saves me. He was with me when I visited you last time, remember? We go out together in the middle of the night, sit next to each other; I hug him and we sit for a long, long time, leaning against each other, under the dome of incessant night shelling.

I don’t understand what’s happening here, and sometimes it seems that logic doesn’t exist. What someone said five minutes ago loses its meaning almost immediately. No one knows how to plan, what to plan. These people know nothing about management or human resource management, although that’s what they do every day.

Things happen not thanks to but in spite of…

It’s hard to be here, but over time you get used to almost everything. During this period, I’ve seen more than I’ve seen in my entire life. Today, it seems that I’ve always been heading this way. My experience and knowledge have led me here. And everything seems clearer, in this war.

When I was in hospital after being injured I couldn’t sleep at night. I had nightmares. I would wake up in the midst of an artillery attack, and the mutilated bodies of my brothers-in arms lay before my eyes. Then I managed to fall asleep, but only during the day. I always thought that such sentiments wouldn’t affect me, but they do. Only over time has the war begun to recede.

Ukrainian father on the frontline

Photo: Glib Bitiukov Facebook

For me, people are now divided into two categories: civilians and military. Earlier, I belonged to the first category and didn’t really feel any difference between them. Now, they are like two separate seas connected by a small strait. I’m in a sea of ​​soldiers and have slowly started feeling more at home. I have fewer and fewer things in common with civilians; I understand civilians less and less and soldiers more and more, and they understand me. They are my family now.

Do you remember, sweetheart, when I came to see you? I had only two days leave, so I drove all night to be able to hug you tightly and look into your beautiful eyes. We spent only a day together, and then I had to go back.

Is it possible for us to get enough of each other if we only see each other for a few hours?

But we made it happen; everything was like before the war. We went to the park and played, and we left explosions, destroyed homes, and fear far behind. It’s a good thing you don’t see them.

I remember how many times I tucked you into bed, how I wished you good night and told you how much I loved you. And then, suddenly, during my last visit, you answered me for the first time: “I love you too, daddy!”

You said it so quietly and gently as if you were embracing every word. I buried my face into your hair and couldn’t believe that everything was so real. And I wanted the clock to stop ticking; I wanted to absorb this moment and keep it in my heart forever. I still remember those words. Of all the things I could miss, this is what I miss the most.

I haven’t seen you for so, so long. I’ve forgotten what you smell like. I remember your lovely ringing laugh. I remember our house, how you hugged me in the morning, how we made breakfast together and then watched cartoons. Somewhere far away, I see our sun-drenched terrace filled with the radiant colors of different flowers.

You fade away like a cloud. There is less and less of you, and more and more grief and pain.

I remember counting the days until the summer holidays, booking a hotel, dreaming of running into the sea with you and diving into the waves. Now, I see that you’ve already learned how to swim alone. We weren’t together on this long journey; we didn’t look out of the car window at new houses and roads; we didn’t fool around together at each gas station. But, I know that you’re safe, that you’re happy and smiling, that you’re with people who love you.

As for me, I must stay here for now – amidst shooting, explosions, hospital beds, and endless pain.

But, you are deep inside me. Every morning, I wake up knowing that I’ve dreamt of you; every morning I remember your smile. I will preserve and save our country for you. It’s the best country in the world. I will defend and protect it so that you have a place to return to, a place to live.

Then, you can stand up and say proudly: “This is what my dad did for me!”

Editor’s Note

Glib Bitiukov is a medic, public activist, and educator at the School of Public Health of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy who is currently defending Ukraine against the Russian invasion. He was deployed to the frontline until late June when he got wounded. Currently, he is recuperating in the hospital.

Ukrainian fathers and mothers are serving in the Armed Forces on the frontlines, far from home. A family that loses the active presence of a parent faces significant challenges and stress. Similarly, the deployed parents often feel isolated, lonely, and fearful.

In addition, the war has caused countless civilian casualties and indiscriminate destruction of civilian infrastructure, forcing Ukrainian families to flee their homes and sometimes even their country. Millions of refugees have crossed the borders into neighboring European countries, and many more have been displaced inside Ukraine. As of June 30, the UNHCR recorded over 5 million refugees who migrated to other countries, while 7 million are believed to be displaced in Ukraine.

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Translated by: Christine Chraibi

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