The comfort of storytelling

This last week in Ukraine, reality has outstripped most scary stories or fairytales.

Any story that was being told, of a choice between the European Union and Russia; of ultra-nationalists versus a democratically elected government; of a gradual exchange of power from president to parliament; of things reverting to normal once all the homeless bums realised they couldn’t live in protest tents forever and went back to whatever gutter they’d crawled from – whatever the story was, however coherent and persuasive the narrative, it’s been utterly overtaken by events.

Who could make up police snipers shooting down unarmed protesters with live ammunition? Or charter flights of the wealthy and well-connected with their suitcases of cash queuing nose to tail to take off out of the country? That the tanks and soldiers allegedly heading to Kiev would never arrive? That the president would sign an agreement to hold early elections and then disappear? That next day his country residence would be open to the public to wander around and gawp at his ostentatious and thoroughly kitsch display of wealth? 

Truth stranger and more fantastic than any fiction. I’ve been making stories out of Ukraine for several years, both as a journalist and as a fiction writer. This last week I’ve mostly just stared in horror, astonishment, awe, sadness, cautious hope. I could never have guessed what would happen, let alone made all this up.

Barricades in Kiev (photo by M Bibik)

Barricades in Kiev (photo by M Bibik)

In the face of all the confusion and upheaval, people continue to make up stories. It’s what makes us human. One Ukrainian city greets riot police returning from Kiev as heroes; another makes them walk down a ‘parade of shame’.  The Russian press narrative is that the interim government is made of bandits and extremists; the West’s story is that it’s a triumph for democracy. Many protestors in Ukraine are calling it a sell-out. The proposed new prime minister has his own story: “this is the government of political suiciders! So welcome to hell.”

And in Crimea today as unidentified armed gunmen have taken over the Crimean parliament building, once again it is terrorists versus the people, or freedom fighters versus mob rule, or something like that. No one has really had time to make up the story here yet.

Right now we are all too busy living through it. History will make its own story out of these events. We don’t know yet who will write that version. Who will evaluate it, embellish it, censor it, cross out and rewrite it, turn it into poetry, a children’s story, a romance, a tragedy – or (what I really want) a happy ending…?

A version of this post appeared on ABBA today

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