A few posts back I mentioned crying for what must have been an hour or more on an over night train ride. I was in a sleeper car heading from Ternopil to Kyiv. The car had four bunks and two other people. I tried to cry silently, but if you’ve ever tried that it always fails miserably. Instead my crying sounded like choking and coughing combined and I’m certain that the other young woman in the car who smiled at me when I entered the compartment knew I had the water works going. Good thing it was dark and the train was rocking us like a giant human cradle.
Let me step back for a minute and explain what triggered it. I had come to Ternopil, western Ukraine, from Kyiv for a weekend trip. My grandmother was born and raised in this city. Her first cousin and her family still live there. My parents and I had visited them back in 2007. I really liked all of them and it was nice that I had a cousin close to me in age who is also a redhead and wants to be journalist (talk about something running in the family).
I arrived in the evening and they were waiting for me on the train platform. We went back to their apartment in a Soviet apartment block. These socialist style buildings have been nicked Khrushchevkas, mockingly after the former head of the USSR Nikita Krushchev. We ate a light meal and called it a night. In morning I chatted with my cousin and her boyfriend who had come back to Ternopil from their university in L’viv for the weekend. I asked if anyone of our generation among their friends wants to become a politician in Ukraine. My cousin started elbowing her boyfriend. After a bit of mocking and probing he said he was interested but then listed the plethora of problems involved in Ukrainian politics – I’ll spare you the list.
Then we headed to church, the same one, although remodeled, that my grandmother would have attended decades before. In his sermon the priest spoke about the hard times facing Ukraine and stressed that there is a path to light and that Ukraine and its people will reach it eventually. After the standing 90-minute mass, we went to my grandmother’s first cousin for a large lunch. They were happy to see me and said I hadn’t changed in seven years (bodes well for my aging). As we started eating, my grandmother’s cousin’s husband rose to give a toast of cognac. He said he was so glad to see me but so, so sad that it had to be during a time of war. And that’s when it hit me. I’d interviewed displaced Crimean Tatars and a woman whose fiancé was gunned down on the Maidan. But this was personal. My grandparents had left because of the Russians and now here they were again invading Ukraine and denying to the whole world that they have any military presence in the country. How fucked up (excuse my language but this deserves it) is it that 70 years later history is repeating itself? This shouldn’t be happening.