Igor’s nephew, our nephew, got his military notice today. What does that mean, you ask? We’re not sure ourselves. And we’re not sure how to feel about it.
I’m in Tbilisi, for a conference I’ve been planning for almost 2 years. Up until the minute I got on the plane yesterday, I wasn’t sure I would actually come. I told my colleagues 3-4 weeks ago, when Igor told me he was going to try to enlist, that I would not leave the country if he went into the army. For good or for bad, they didn’t take him (yet), but I still would not commit to this trip, telling my colleagues we are living day-to-day, and as long as the Russian war on Ukraine is unpredictable, my life is unpredictable.
Right or wrong, I did get on that plane yesterday. I know people are depending on me for this conference, and the sort-of lull in the fighting in Ukraine made me semi-comfortable leaving for a few days (with the knowledge and caveat that I can be back in Kyiv in a few hours, if I want/need to be). So I’m here. And I do love Tbilisi, and Georgia, and my fabulous colleagues here. And they, more than anyone else in the world, understand all to well what we are going through in Ukraine. So there is some therapy in the understanding and sympathy.
And tonight I called Igor, who told me Denis (pronounced like the American name Denise, but it is the equivalent of the name Dennis) got his military notice today. But we’re not sure Denis even knows yet, as he moved to Kyiv 3 weeks ago to live with us, while he does his master’s degree in Kyiv. He’s also looking for a job, and much to our surprise and immense pride, he’s pounding the pavement and has had lots of interviews.
Denis is from small town Ukraine, and moving to Kyiv is a big, and overwhelming, deal for him, and for his parents. For my Ohio folks, it’s like a Centerville kid moving to Columbus. Theoretically (geographically) not so far away, but nonetheless lightyears apart. He’s a simple kid, 22 going on 16. Sweet, eager, naive and wholly inexperienced. His first week in Kyiv, I was convinced he was bored and lonely. Denis went home to Korosten for the weekend, and I told Igor I felt bad Denis had had such a boring and lonely week – he spent every evening with us, never went out with people his own age. Igor’s perspective was the complete opposite – Denis had had an incredibly exciting week full of new adventures. He went out to dinner with us and a group of friends to a pretty posh restaurant. He tried Kentucky bourbon for the first time (thank you Jayne!). He was critically, essentially helpful when our kitchen & bathroom sinks backed up one morning – he helped me deal with the vomiting sinks and managed the conversations with various plumbers that I could not negotiate with my limited plumbing-related vocabulary. And he got job interviews, on his own, after just a few days, in a very tough job market. He’s a small town boy, learning to live in the big city. To his credit, he came back for week 2. And for week 3.
And now, he’s been called up to report to the army enlistment office. Denis’ dad, Igor’s brother-in-law Vova, called Igor today about it. When Igor told me, my first questions were “How is Denis?” and “How is Oksana?” (his mother, Igor’s sister). Igor’s answer to both questions was “I don’t know.” He doesn’t know if Vova has told anyone else in the family yet (the letter was sent to Denis’ home of record, his parents address). All Igor could tell me was that Vova was upset, as any parent would be. And Igor was upset, and I was… worried, concerned for how Denis would take the news, and of course terrified for his life in this utterly absurd and lopsided war.
I had just been at dinner with a colleague, talking about the “situation” in Ukraine. I talked about my own personal dilemma – I was both horrified and tremendously proud that my husband went to the military office to enlist. My worst nightmare is to lose him, yet if it has to be, I couldn’t be prouder that he would do it defending his country (hell, all of Europe!) against this pure evil invader. And we talked about the people from Donbas, the horrors so many have fled, and the thin sliver of a silver lining that they get a chance to start a new life, away from the economic disaster that has been eastern Ukraine for decades. But why should Korosten boys die to save the Donbas territory? But who will fight to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity?
And so our own personal dilemma. I want to kick and scream and cling with all my might to keep my husband in my arms. But how can he look himself in the mirror in the years to come if he doesn’t fight to save his country? And how can I ask him not to fight? And none of us wants to see young, beautiful, innocent Denis sent to the front. But what future is there for him if boys like him don’t go to protect it? How can we want someone else to protect our future, our country, our freedom, if we ourselves are not willing to fight, and send our most dear and beloved to fight?
I had lunch Wednesday with a friend who told me about meeting with another friend the previous day – the mother of a soldier killed at the front. She had to try to find her son in bags of body parts, bodies blown to bits by the Russian bombings during the so-called ceasefire. And I see regularly the soldiers who’ve lost arms and legs and huge chucks of their skulls in this fucking war. I think often of the millions of mothers and wives before me who sent their darling, beloved sons and husbands to battle. So many stupid wars, yet so many critically essential battles to save humanity…
We are scared about what will happen to Denis. But we are also terrified by what will happen if Putin is not stopped. Do we pull strings so he’s not shipped out, or do we sacrifice our own flesh and blood, as thousands of other families are already doing?
I hate this so much. Everyone asks me “How is it in Kyiv? What are the people like now?” My answer every time is “Kyiv is wonderful, as it was for years before and has been since February. But the people are angry, furious, frustrated.” And so am I.