War Diaries, May 21, 2022

“We understand more about fascism than we did in the 1930s.  We now know where it led.  We should recognize fascism, because then we know what we are dealing with. But to recognize it is not to undo it.  Fascism is not a debating position, but a cult of will that emanates fiction.  It is about the mystique of a man who heals the world with violence, and it will be sustained by propaganda right to the end.  It can be undone only by demonstrations of the leader’s weakness.  The fascist leader has to be defeated, which means that those who oppose fascism have to do what is necessary to defeat him. Only then do the myths come crashing down.”  Dr. Timothy Snyder, Professor of History, Yale U., Opinion Guest Essay, NYT (May 19, 2022)


Hope of a return is in the hearts of many an exile.  The Russians are moving further away from Kharkiv toward the Donbas region.  There is still conflict, shelling and bombing within 40 km of the area from which our residents once lived, so no one is rushing to get back—though longing to go home.  I understand that the infrastructure is coming back to life. There is a probability that the underground transportation system will be operational again soon, and schools are resuming their studies online. There are sufficient food supplies though petrol is a problem.  Only 10 litres per car allowed.  I don’t know if that’s once a week or less — or more, for that matter — but I do know that those who depend on their cars for work could not manage on such a small amount.  The distressing news is that the Ukrainians have had to surrender Mariupol.


Depending on with whom you speak and on the hour of the day, some say that there is still more to come—that in the West of the country there are random missile attacks, and the Donbas is completely destroyed. Dnipro is also under attack according to those from that city.


But yesterday was Olesia’s birthday!  She turned seven. It was quite the celebration.  Everyone received a hand-written invitation, and everyone attended.  There were puzzles and games and water balloons and rope swings, cake, candies and grilled meats.


After the children went to bed, many of us continued to indulge in the festivities, drinking wine and talking politics.  It’s not my pastime, especially considering the language barrier, but I’ve been to enough outdoor parties in Poland to know that after all the talk winds down, there will be singing if patient enough to wait. I was not disappointed. Fortunately, the singing carried on into the night long after it became apparent that we can do nothing to influence the leadership of a country, short of revolution.  Yuliia and I, with the help of a translator, concluded this revolution would look like small communities who valued the imagination, art, music, poetry and the skills required to care for oneself such as tailoring one’s own clothes, growing one’s own food, living off-grid, caring for each other, defending each other.  Yes, I know, the high-minded idealism of a utopia, and we know where that can lead. Still…to wake up to the strings of the violin sounding, the poet struggling with the pen, the breeze, the children playing in harmony and the occasional conflict does seduce one into thinking the idea of a small community might not be such a bad idea.


This is how we’re managing at Sichów.  There are two women who are working in the garden on a work agreement, both paid employees.  We anticipate a flourishing organic garden this year, provided the rain cooperates; otherwise, we will be watering a lot.


There is the formidable Natasha in the kitchen, also a paid employee who works as hard as a team of oxen.  Each family joins her on their appointed day of cooking producing the most delicious soups and salads.


Oksana and Oksana have transformed our tables with their beautiful table linen and are now busily making summer clothes for the children.  Did I mention the curtains.  I think we need to buy one more machine.  See the link to view their work.


Sasha and Sasha are helping Romek in the parkland trimming trees, clearing leaves, raking new gravel, keeping the grounds looking beautiful.


Our gardeners have also cleared a space in front of the house for cut flowers.


The students are busy with schoolwork, the preschoolers are adjusting to their new environment, and everyone in the house is savoring the weather to its fullest.


The Polish tutor comes twice a week to a room full of attendees, and twice a week Paul instructs Olesia on the recorder.  If you’re lucky enough to be around when the two of them are practicing together, you won’t regret it.


We are like a family, making the best of our days together under these most extraordinary circumstances.  It might be worth mentioning that a few tears fell yesterday because Olesia’s father has missed his daughter’s birthday for the first time in her seven years.

It is also worth mentioning that the tears of the Ukrainian woman are not impotent, but tears with backbone and belligerence.


“It’s the saddest thing to leave home on an autumn morning where nothing forebodes a timely return…” Tadeusz Różewicz, Sobbing Superpower