War Diaries, April 20, 2022

If Only I Could See


If only I could see

my fields and steppes again.

Won’t the good Lord let me,

in my old age,

be free?

I’d go to Ukraine,

I’d go back home.

There they’d greet me—

glad to see the old man.

There I’d rest,

I’d pray to God,

There I’d—but why go on?

There will be nothing.

How am I to live in slavery with no hope?

Do tell me,


lest I go crazy.


Taras Shevchenko



Paul and I visited Lviv about four years ago.  We went on a pilgrimage to see the frescos of Jan Rosen at the Armenian Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary and to stay at the George Hotel where Rose and Henry Kieniewicz spent their honeymoon, as well where Renia Rostworowska’s parents were married.*


The monument to Taras Shevchenko was within walking distance.  I remember seeing it and have some recollection of pausing before it, curious to know who it was but not curious enough to ask.


Shevchenko was a revolutionary, a Ukrainian Icon.  Not the kind that carried a gun but the kind that wrote poetry, painted, dreamed of another kind of world and threatened Imperial Russia with his thoughts and his words.


He was born into serfdom, orphaned at eleven but was liberated from the bondage of slavery by a series of events — chiefly, the recognition that he had a rare talent for drawing at such a young age.  Later, his poetry took notice.


One of his early poems insulted Czar Nicholas I so badly that he was arrested and sent on a forced march to the Ural Mountains.  In exile, he was forbidden to draw, paint or write.  Czar Nicholas I took pleasure in confirming his sentence by personally signing it.  In the official report, Shevchenko was accused of using the ‘Little-Russian language.’ (Ukrainian)


The Dream


To every man his destiny,

His path before him lies,

One man builds, one pulls to ruins,

One, with greedy eyes,

Looks far out, past the horizon,

Whether there remains

Some country he can seize and bear

With him to his grave;

That one of his own kinsman robs

By card-play in his home,

One, crouching in the corner, whets

His knife against his own

Brother, and that one, quiet and sober,

Pious and God-fearing,

Would creep up like a kitten, wait

Until the time you’re having

Some trouble, and then drive his claws

Deep into your liver—

Useless to implore—for neither

Wife nor babes will move him.


This is only the beginning of an epic poem he wrote in 1844 called “The Dream”, but the similarities to today are indisputable.  Striking. Especially troubling, almost foreboding is the last line written here: Wife nor babes will move him.  (When I think that of the ten million refugees who have fled Ukraine 90% are women and children, this last line is particularly chilling.)


Most of our residents left for Kraków at 6:30 this morning, hoping to be first in line when the consulate doors open.  Each one needs some form or other, essential to determining their specific status.  Our reliable, but often cranky, bus driver Pan T. was here early to help load the thirty who were going.


This has given me an excellent opportunity to let you know what’s developing here at Sichów.


We had an Easter Egg Painting Party on Saturday. Both the children and adults participated in painting the eggs.  We served sandwiches, deviled eggs, chips and sodas.  Each child was given an Easter basket with chocolates and small toys.


Afterwards, we sat around the table with one of our distinguished Ukrainian families, the family of Olesia and Masha — the painters, filmmakers, illustrators.  Because Paul speaks Russian, Jordan and I were able to keep up with the conversation reasonably well, as we talked about playwrights, poets, films, and, finally, Russia.  Oddly enough, the name of Taras Shevchenko was never mentioned, perhaps because they thought we wouldn’t have known about him and, indeed, they were right.  But we talked about Tchaikovsky, who is from Ukraine, and we talked about Chekov and The Cherry Orchard and how the cherry orchard is actually in Ukraine, and we talked about how the Russians have, for generations, restricted the Ukrainian language by forbidding it to be spoken or ridiculing it as an inferior form of speech.  It was one of those evenings where one is so absorbed with the conversation that our hardships were forgotten for those few hours.


For that brief period of time, we were not thinking about war or re-settlement, passports, money, lost family and friends, missing pets.  We were there together, completely engaged.


Out of this evening, came a strong desire to create a community of artisans, craftsmen, and painters.  What would that look like?  I was tired of second guessing the war.  I don’t know why I had this ridiculous idea that I wouldn’t feel as jumpy when the war changed its front and focus.  ‘It’s moving further and further east’, I said to myself.  But of course, I didn’t feel better, not one bit so.  I was so anxious yesterday that I could hardly quiet myself even when lying down.  When I ran into Paul’s cousin at the grocery store, I burst into tears.  So it is.  It’s like that sometimes.


I mentioned my idea, however, to Jordan and he had a better idea.  (I’m delighted to have him here with us.  He’s a hard-working guy, and he’s willing to jump in with any task we have going on.)  He felt it wasn’t a good idea to create an atmosphere of expectation where the residents would feel pressure to ‘move on.’  I become very unpleasant myself when people tell me I should get over something or curb my emotions, so I understood immediately what Jordan was saying.  His idea was to simply fix up one of the rooms in the ruin as an atelier for our resident artists to have a place to go to during the day.  That’s it.  So simple. As he explained it, ‘For things to be as close to the way they were when they left Ukraine.’  And not to make anyone think that we’re doing this especially for them, as this can cause a sense of obligation.


We also have two or three women seamstresses and one whom I know enjoys knitting.  We’re thinking about buying some sewing machines and yarn and setting those up in the Orangerie.


Small steps.  Simple.  Welcoming.


*Last week I realised that I mentioned Marek Rostworowski and only a few of you know whom I’m talking about.  Marek R. was the Minister of Culture in Poland after the War and Paul’s mother’s first cousin.


Teresa Horodynska Rostworowska married Jan R., Marek’s brother.  Her parents were married at the George Hotel.


Paul’s parents spent their honeymoon there in 1939.