no more numbers

29 August 2014, Ilovaisk, east Ukraine: 366 dead, 429 wounded, 128 taken prisoner, 158 missing in action (Ukrainian military prosecutor’s office).

158 missing is just a number.

Andrey drove his mum mad by playing computer games late into the night in the one-room flat they shared. Igor was a miner, he went skiiing for the first time in the Carpathians just before the war, and took to it like a duck to water, said to his wife and daughters: why did I spend all my life underground and never knew there was this? Sasha loved camping and nature and taught all his fellow soldiers to dutifully bury their shits as they camped out at their check point last summer, before it all went wrong at Ilovaisk. Artyom could inhale one of his mum’s homemade cakes in one sitting. Herman made everyone laugh. Yura was born practically in a railway carriage travelling from Germany to Moscow. Yaroslav had a beautiful grin everyone remembered. Sergey was as proud and careful of his clothes as a girl.

Maxim’s mother sits at her computer, hoping against hope that her son will contact her again through social media: mumwe’reherewe’reallaliveall. In her cluttered inbox endless spam sits alongside messages from conmen promising to return her son alive if she will only send money.

Ruslan’s son is collecting money in his piggybank to pay the bad people to let his dad go free. His daughter came home from school crying because the other children said her dad was dead.

Igor’s wife wakes from dreams of joining a women’s volunteer army battalion where everyone welcomes her and there is work to be done and hope lies ahead – wakes to the same empty bed and the same hopeless question: what can I do? What if he comes home and asks why I didn’t I do more to find him?

Yura’s mother gets up every morning at 4am to pray; the stray cat she took in sits beside her purring. She thought it was a tom; when it turned out to be female Andrey’s mother advised her: keep it, because if a tom can become a female then for sure your Yura is coming home.

Andrey’s cat ran away a few months ago. In the empty flat Andrey’s mum dreams of aeroplanes, and of wrapping her belongings in a handkerchief and setting off, like the hedgehog in the fog, to wander far away from everything. But the hedgehog comes home in the end to its family, because it is in a children’s cartoon.

Come home, come home, come home, come home, come home, come home, come home, come home, come home

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