War Diaries, April 7, 2022

Diana has been born!  Mother and baby are doing well, but because of virus restrictions still in place, Igir was not allowed into the birthing room. He waited here at Sichów like one who waits at a mobile phone park for an arriving flight, full of anticipation and excitement. I saw him only minutes after the news, and he could hardly form a sentence, he was so overjoyed.  


The bus load of arrivals from Saturday have decided to stay. The children seem to be settling in and they can receive the medical attention they need in Staszów. Paul has already accompanied one of the children and her mother to see the doctor. I can report good results from this first visit.


We have a new baby and a new puppy, Bear, also called Misha by the residents because it means ‘teddy bear’ in Russian. Bear is a hulking presence that started showing up at Sichów a few weeks ago. I had no idea that the children here had already discovered him and were very sad that he appeared to have no home. There were nights when it was cold and raining and he whimpered under the windows of a few who heard him. I hadn’t the first notion of any of this. Not long after though, I saw him, myself, loping across the lawn. One of the workers here said he belonged to a villager, but when I inquired further it turned out he had been abandoned.


Paul wasn’t thrilled to acquire another dog as we have two plus the cat, but Bear was particularly persuasive when it came to taking up residency at Sichów. Jordan and I finally took him to the vet where we were quite surprised to learn he was near death’s door and he’s barely a year old. The next few days we spent hours in the office holding him while they gave him fluids, medicines and injections. After his treatment on the third day, we came home to wait and see. It was a tense weekend because he wasn’t eating much at first, and when he finally did devour a whole bowl full, he collapsed into lethargy. I went to bed crying because I really thought we were going to lose him. But the next morning Jordan texted to say he was bounding with energy. Bear now belongs at Sichów. He is a permanent resident.


Bear belongs.


As humans, we long to belong, don’t we? I can’t believe it’s much different for a dog who once travelled in a wolf pack. It was where he belonged. 


My world is enlarging to include Bear and a new family of residents whose lives were split apart, severed from everything they knew, everything that was familiar, but fortunately not everything they loved.


Yesterday, Andrii showed us his artwork. A few days after his arrival here he pulled a USB stick from his pocket and said: ‘My whole life’s work is here on this stick. Everything else is lost.’ Andrii is an illustrator and designs book covers for a living. He has also written several books on the technique of drawing; the human body, landscapes and famous architectural landmarks. I asked him yesterday if he had ever taught at the university. ‘No, he said, I am a practical artist.’


He works primarily in pencil, though we did see some paintings. There was a series of detective stories he illustrated and on the cover of one was a very handsome young man. This is his son he said. I can only conclude that he is still in Ukraine fighting against the occupation.


When I woke up this morning to get coffee, Andrii was in the kitchen. I wanted to tell him how he and the presence of his family have changed my life, have forced me to look deeply into what it means to be human, to suffer but also to rejoice. How I value life in a way I never imagined possible. I am so sorry they are here under these circumstances, but that we are and that we manage is what is exceptional about being human. I am learning the great lesson of not taking myself so seriously; of recognizing my own smallness and self-centeredness.


When Andrii laughs, he is really laughing. He laughs from his gut. He laughs with abandon.


Our days here together are dedicated to each other. We form a community of human beings.


On Saturday we are heading for another field trip, this time to Kraków. Plus, the work-study program has begun. It’s spring here at Sichów and all is in bloom. Seeds are being sown in the greenhouse, trees are beginning to leaf, the small white wildflowers are visible as far as the eye can see. We are now able to employ several women thanks to the generous donations of our global friends.


There is still yet so much to tell you about the soul of Sichów and how the broken find relief here. I will think about this on the bus ride into Kraków.