It’s 5 AM, and I’m in bed. Waking up to the sound of my phone beeping with a message from my twin sister: “We’ve got explosions. Don’t come.”
"Fuuuuck," I respond.
Last winter, when everyone, from Joe Biden to my Italian father-in-law was claiming that russia would invade Ukraine, I planned a visit home. I bought a ticket for February 27th from Rome. I wasn’t worried about the war breaking out. I was wrong.
As the first bombs struck Ukrainian land, I was peacefully sleeping in my bed. From that moment on, my peaceful nights were gone.
On the first day of the war, I got messages and phone calls from everyone I knew here in Italy. They all asked about my family. I didn’t know how to respond. “They’re alive,” I’d say. “For now.”
In the first few weeks, I could only obsessively read the news and check my sister’s location on my iPhone. I couldn't concentrate on anything longer than 10 minutes. The first thing on my mind when I woke up? "Hope my family is still alive." I smoked a lot.
When I returned to my coworking space, people came up to me almost crying, asking what they could do to help. I suggested they share what was going on in Ukraine so that no one could say, “It’s not all that clear.”
Over time, however, my conversations with Italians have changed. They used to ask me how I felt; now they asked me why Zelenskyi couldn’t just negotiate as a civilized leader, compare the war in my country to whatever the USA has done in Iraq, and discuss how high their country’s gas bill has become. I’ve heard random talks about Ukrainians bombing themselves, and read comments on Facebook about Donbas citizens being killed by Nazis. The funny thing was that people who wrote those comments referred to Donbas as if it were a country with years of history. I wonder if they could find it on the map.
It’s been a year since the war started. I don’t get mad anymore when I see a stupid rainbow flag representing peace, and I react calmly when someone repeats baseless russian talking points. After two visits to Ukraine during the war, I feel a little less guilty for not being there when this horror started.
I've always been connected to my land, but during the war, it’s like a lifeline that’s been cut, leaving me adrift in a sea of turmoil.
This whole year felt like a long day. February 24th stretched on for 365 days. Many people I know have moved from Ukraine. But most of my friends and coworkers are there. Some haven’t seen their families for a year now, some have joined Ukraine’s Armed Forces, and some are just living their lives amid the ongoing war. Every city in Ukraine has seen it: the war is in the fortified trenches and barricades set up all over the place to protect against attacks, it’s on the billboards that serve as a constant reminder of the price we’re paying, it’s in the underground shelters where people seek refuge during air raids. The apartment I once lived in is now a big black hole, exactly like russia.
My people are not just living through war. We are bearing actual genocide.
The terrorist state wants to take my land, erase my culture, cancel my language, demolish my heritage, rewrite my history — everything that makes me who I am.
Although I met many Italians who wholeheartedly support Ukraine, and understand the situation very well, for most people in the west, the war in my country is just a distant and abstract crisis unfolding on their television screens.
I guess you never really realize what war is like until it comes knocking on your door. And if that ever happens, you won’t be hanging that stupid rainbow flag on your balcony.
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