Posts Tagged 'missing in action'

In all truth

I take the bus that goes ‘In all Truth’, to visit a woman who recounts the lies she’s been told, and the lies she told herself, to explain why her son never came home to her from the war. Her road, Prospect Truth, heads out of her city eastwards, straight to Donetsk, to the line beyond which it’s all lies, beyond which her missing  son is somewhere, in limbo, neither dead nor alive.

prospekt pravdy

I take a bus to  Liberation Square, where women hold photographs of prisoners – their sons and husbands detained in Donetsk. The ones being held prisoner and the ones holding them prisoner are both descended from those who fought for that liberation the park commemorates. There are identical parks on the other side of that line further east, beyond which those men are somewhere, in limbo, neither sentenced nor acquitted.

Truth and Freedom. The first casualties of war. But in the two years since I met these women in Ukraine, this war’s stupid ironies never cease.

Someone’s child

It is borderguards day today in Ukraine. This is for Oleh Kislitsky and his family, espcially his mother Nadezhda. Oleh disappeared near Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia in August 2014, when his Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky borderguard unit was retreating from a Russian and seperatist offensive. A body was found and buried by local people in Luhansk region; it was exhumed by volunteers a year later, and identified by DNA matching as Oleh.

Now he lies in his local cemetery alongside his grandparents, and today the borderguards will put up a new monument for him.

oleh grave2

“I don’t believe it’s him,” Nadezhda told me in November last year. “I don’t know if my son’s buried or not buried.”

We were standing by the grave in the grey, leafless cemetery, two weeks after the funeral. “I think I did the right thing, because in years to come maybe they will find out who he is, and his family will thank me. He’s someone’s child. And I’m grateful to those people in [Luhansk region] who gave him to the earth, so that the crows didn’t pick him to pieces and he could never be found…”

We stood together contemplating the great mound of plastic flowers, and I suppose she was imagining in my place her tall son standing beside her. Nadezhda, whose name means ‘hope’, said “I’ll wait and hope as long as this earth carries me. I hope I’ll live for it, for when he comes back and says, ‘Mum, why did you do this? I’m alive!’”

Oleh is one of eleven Ukrainian borderguards who went missing in that retreat in August 2014.

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


previous posts

A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland


%d bloggers like this: