Posts Tagged 'ATO'

Kyiv is the new

There is a room upstairs in Kyiv railway station; an enclosure, separated from the rest of the hall by plywood, canvas and camouflage netting. Not many people know it’s there; few passengers make it up to the second floor of the south terminal, and even fewer to this dim corner.

On a Sunday evening the station is heaving with passengers, taxi touts, suitcases, paper cups of coffee, advertising, announcements, mobiles and headphones, hellos and goodbyes. The station was recently used in an advert for Apple watches, just one of several western brands and musicians and celebrities who are ‘discovering’ Kyiv as a cool and cheap place to film videos and drink cocktails and admire street life. I seem to be hearing everywhere: ‘Kyiv is hot, Kyiv is trending, Kyiv is the new Berlin’ – not war-torn, not dangerous, not dull but vibrant, creative, attractive.

It’s all these things. Kyiv is on an up as it’s been on a down, a glut as it’s been through famine, a time of creation as there have been times of destruction. Kyiv is full of gorgeous people drinking coffee and getting their beards barbered, opening cafes and clubs and clothing boutiques, being productive and stylish and pleased that their capital city is cool, is hot enough for the railway station to feature in an advert for a watch that can store 40 million songs.

And yet – there’s this room, upstairs in the corner of the railway station. Even on a busy Sunday evening it’s such a quiet, dingy place. There are carrymats spread on the plastic seating, and old but clean blankets and pillows, free tea and biscuits, an ancient TV showing some obscure film about some mediaeval war, all blood and broadswords and brutality. The temporary walls are hung with the shoulder patches and flags of Ukrainian army and volunteer battalions, patterned with symbols and slogans, signed with the call signs (‘Badger’, ‘Tatar’, ‘Blond’) of men playing at being boys, probably half of them dead by now.

These station enclosures – run by volunteers, without state assistance – are the closest Ukraine has to VIP waiting rooms for participants in the ATO (anti-terrorist operation), the ongoing war in the east. This Sunday night there are two young women volunteers, and four or five or six men sitting or lying around. One young man is fast asleep stretched out in the corner, and the volunteers hover around him, putting a pillow and blanket in reach but not wanting to wake him up: “We’ve seen what the reaction can be to being woken unexpectedly.”

The group of soldiers’ mothers I’m here with all turn to look at him and Sveta says, “Yes, we’ve seen it too”; and at last one of the volunteers gingerly drops a blanket over his legs and tiptoes away smiling as he never stirs, and all the mums look at this sleeping boy and I suppose every one of them is seeing her own lost child lying there, and hoping someone somewhere is putting a blanket over him to keep him warm.

Another soldier offers an apple to Sveta’s daughter Vlada. “It’s from Maxim, it’s from your brother,” Sveta says coaxingly, when the little girl doesn’t want to take it. “It’s come from the ATO, from Maxim. Say thank you.” Vlada puts her hands behind her back. She doesn’t remember her brother Maxim, who went missing in action in the ATO in August 2014, when she was a baby.

On Lilya’s phone is a picture of another little girl: Lilya’s granddaughter Polina, born two months after her father went missing in action in February 2015. Lilya doesn’t see Polina much, not since her daughter-in-law decided Sasha must be dead and met another man and moved to another city; moved on.

“I can’t understand her,” says Lilya. “No, I can understand. But I can’t accept it.” She shows me a picture of Sasha, fair-haired and blue-eyed as his daughter, called up at 18, vanished before he was 20. “It’s because she isn’t his mother. None of them.” And them is the whole world, the government and the security services and the army and the capital city, the hipsters the passengers the daughters-in-law the 40 million songs, all of them who don’t care enough.

She looks at the sleeping soldier with the blanket over his legs, and speaks softly. “For them it’s just one out of a million. But for us, it’s the only one.”

And no one cares enough. The shoulder patches, Donbas Diva Maria Tornado UPA, all those battalions, all those call signs, look so dingy and mediaeval and sad. The flags look like something out of some forgotten museum already. And it’s all so fucking dreary, it’s right in the centre of Kyiv and it is so far away from trending vibrant hipster Kyiv-is-the-new-Berlin.

station ATO

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