Dear Diary, I love Wednesdays. That’s because it’s drama and literature day at school. For this term, Mr Kozak has challenged us to write about a topic that he selects each week. Assignments must be handed in every Tuesday for grading on Wednesdays. He says I have the aptitude and talent to go to university, but I still have many things to learn about the world. Being a 17-year-old girl in a small city is not always eventful, so I’ll try to write about what I see on the street, in school, and home life. Thank goodness we have a week between assignments to hand in our work, as I sometimes just stare out the window without any idea of what to write. Mr Kozak says a good writer will always observe the world and their surroundings – but not necessarily through a classroom window, so he encourages us to get outside, smell the sunflowers, taste the air, listen to the noise, and immerse ourselves into life. He says writers need to be true only to themselves and have a flair for the dramatic. Telling a compelling story that captures your reader, is the key. Keeping a notebook to jot down ideas, is a necessity, he says. That way, they won’t be forgotten, so I’ve chosen you - Diary, to be the first to hear my thoughts. You will be my bestie this term, keeping all my secrets in until I choose to share them. I’m still waiting for inspiration, but I’ve been distracted by the news telling us the Russians are planning to invade us. This is very distressing, and it’s made me feel anxious about life. I need to clear my head, so I can begin to write, but it’s all over the news.
A week has gone by and I’ve not written a word. Is this what writer’s block is? I’m still distracted because for several months now, the news has talked about our Russian neighbours gathering troops at our border. The fear was that we were going to be attacked, but Russian TV says it’s a special military operation. By the sound of the explosions, my city is getting pummelled, and I’m worried we’re going to get blown up. What kind of special military operation is that? Putin is using some lame excuse about getting rid of our Nazis. I’ve not seen any Nazis. Where are the Nazis? Just come out with it and say you want our country to be part of Russia again. Reminds me of that song by the Beatles, ‘Back in the USSR.’ I’m renaming it to, ‘Back in the NEW-SSR.’
I saw a few burnt-out cars on the way home from school today and an apartment block on fire, so we have been advised to barricade our windows at night. Why at night? Why not in the day as well? It’s all so frightening. I can’t visit my friends as there is a curfew in place, and anyway, I heard about people getting shot just waiting in line at the bus stop. I fear we will be overrun by the Russians, but Papa says our military is ready for invasion and will repulse them. Papa fought them back in 2014, so I guess he knows what he’s talking about. I have no idea why we have been attacked. What have we done?
The stress is making me feel sick and I can’t think of anything else to say. I’ll try again tomorrow.
OMG! We are at war! People are dying in their homes, in their cars, on the street, and I haven’t written anything in days because of the Russians attacking us! Now my boyfriend Andrei has volunteered for the civilian army. I don’t want him to go, but he’s doing it to defend all of us. Please, please don’t get hurt, Andrei.
Today, I saw on the news that the Russians used a vacuum bomb that sucks all the surrounding oxygen from the air to generate a very high-temperature explosion. Those poor people caught in the middle of that. To have the air sucked out of your lungs is terrible to imagine. I hate the Russians! Papa says we should try leaving the city and head west to the Polish border, so we’re packing up everything we might need such as food, water, medicine, clothes. Mummah says it will be difficult because we’re surrounded by Russian forces. It’s like they’re trying to keep us in as hostages. Mr Kozak has urged us to just write about anything – no matter how difficult it is to find inspiration. He says that we should channel our emotions and use them to create powerful voices loud enough for the world to hear of our plight. However, everything is so upsetting right now that it’s difficult for me to concentrate.
We’re still at home. We tried to drive out of the city but got turned back when the Russians fired at some cars in our convoy. It was so scary. A bullet hit the car in front of us, so Papa quickly turned back towards home. We may be trapped with nowhere to go. Whatever remaining gas and electricity we had got cut off, so we’re living under candlelight, and cooking with camping stoves. Water supplies are low, so we’re restricted to using water for just brushing our teeth and washing our faces and hands for a while. The teachers at school are organising a shelter for me and Mummah to stay safe in. Papa has been called up to defend Ukraine. He’s commanding Andrei’s unit, so at least they’ll look out for each other. Mr Kozak says our new shelter will be exciting. I can’t see how that will be so thrilling, jammed in with lots of people, but if it’s safe, then I’m okay with that. I handed in a couple of pages about what is happening in Ukraine. It’s all gibberish with no structure and no defined beginning, middle, or end. It’s so bad that I’m not even going to show you, Diary. I’m so worried about everything. Mummah says that I should think about nice things, like flowers in the springtime. Bless her. She’s trying to keep me distracted, but I can see the worry in her face. Her and Papa don’t like being apart very much.
I got a C on my first writing review. I knew it wasn’t very good. Mr Kozak encouraged me to think like a conjurer of words – a magician of the blank page, and not like an everyday journalist, repeating verbatim what they see and hear. He wants me to put myself into the story and feel what I write. I told him that was easier said than done, because the noise is so loud and frequent with bombs and missiles and gunfire, it’s hard to concentrate. Mr Kozak told me to use the noise and write about how it makes me feel. Because living at home is not safe anymore, he arranged for me and Mummah to permanently shelter in the local theatre, where he can continue to conduct his classes in person. It is helping me to write better as I now have a support group of students to discuss writing, so the noise outside is a little less worrying. There are still distractions in the theatre, but it is good to hear all the young kids running around playing as if nothing was wrong. We’ve set up a classroom on the stage to provide some creative inspiration. This week’s task is to describe in poetic prose, the plight of our country – either before the invasion or as it is currently. My piece is a tribute to our brave soldiers resisting the might of Russia, so here goes:
“Shake the ground, you Moscovian blast of metal
It will remain to reclaim long after you’ve left
Arise the cloud of smoke-filled inferno
In the end it is you who’ll live bereft
Of sons and husbands, uncles, and brothers
Whose leaders blatantly lied to their mothers
Our defenders return your wounded and slain
Then say a short prayer for those that remain
For we are the civil, but if you continue to attack
We’ll send your boys home to never come back.”
Another attempt to evacuate us was once again prevented by the Russians bombing the so-called evacuation corridor. Like skittles toppled in a bowling alley, cars littered the highway of no escape. It was a horrible scene with the dead laying where they were slain. We tried to pick up some supplies from our apartment, but there was nothing left of our home. It’s gone, reduced to ashes and twisted metal. I cried so hard when I saw the ruins. My Mummah cradled me like a baby, as I was inconsolable. Where will we live now? We can’t stay in this theatre for very long.
To soothe my anxieties, I have immersed myself deeply into writing. It helps me deal with all this unholy destruction that surrounds us. All we have left now are the clothes we wear, plus a few items of food. The shelter has provided daily meals, toilets, and drinking water, so we’re surviving. But the truth is, we need to escape, but that, for now, seems impossible.
The good news is that I got a B-Plus for my poetry piece. Mr Kozak was very impressed by my poem and said it probably deserved a higher grade, but he knows there is something greater in me ready to come out and did not want me to get ahead of myself – whatever that means; however, he did add that when all this madness has stopped, he would get the local newspaper to publish my poem. I was so happy to hear that.
As a precursor to our next task, we’ve been studying Shakespeare all week, namely his Henry the Fifth play. Not sure how it must have sounded in its original English context; however, according to Mr Kozak (who speaks English), the Ukrainian translation was fairly accurate with its depiction of the way people talked six hundred years ago. It’s a little weird but poetic - in its own right. This week’s assignment is to write something patriotic in the style of Shakespeare’s Henry V, so here go-eth. Imagine me addressing Putin’s army on the field of battle, trying to dissuade them from attacking.
“What hath caused such wrath upon our noble lands.
Have we not been the good neighbour since our bittersweet parting?
To live in peace, one must abide by the rules of civility and not succumb to temptations of nationalistic majesty.
Doth the god of war have nothing else to do but seek out the meek, and unleash a tempest upon unsuspecting victims? A blood lust to quench hath no inhibition of conscience. It hath but a red cloud of stubbornness blinding their prudence from hindsight.
Indeed, oh Warlord, it appears your ambitions outweigh your sensibility.
That a leader of nations must tread on the necks of similar ilk of common blood, exhibits nothing more than a petty schoolyard bully afraid to reveal their vulnerability – in the event the truth shall ring out, exposing a nature as docile as a lamb and weak as a coward.”
Rise up! I cry to your followers, and smite the emperor of nought!
Let him rot in exile as did our own fallen, disgraced son, Viktor Yanukovych.
Let there be a place in the underworld for the Dealers of Death, where armies of soldiers of guilt invade their daily thoughts, endlessly tormenting them in perpetuity, with the names, faces, and souls they so cruelly vanished.
Let not the servants of the people be swayed by ambiguous ambition, but by the modest needs of the people – for that is true freedom – a notion altogether deceptive to an outmoded murder nation.
Hear our warning loud and clear. Strike camp, oh despot of doom, before rivers of blue turn the blood-red colour of your forces fiery fate. If war is to die as love is to live, then let it be widely known and understood… we are prepared for both, faithfully reciting the following oath…
Death may rain from the sky,
nay… we will not burn,
famine may bloat our bellies,
nay… we will not starve,
strike us down, yea… perhaps,
and we will rise,
our unified spirit soaring high above your most foul stench,
and should you in your misguided wisdom, once again invade our lands,
we will repel and return you to your mother’s grief.
For we are Ukraine, the flowers of the sun.”
Such a famous date, The Ides of March. In 44BC, Roman Senators plotted and assassinated one of Rome’s greatest leaders. Perhaps this will be the day of downfall for the Madman of Moscow. Will his inner circle come to their senses and rid the world of this modern-day Caesar? That is probably wishful thinking. The war does not look like ending very soon. The shelter in the theatre has taken in more people, so the war is definitely continuing. We heard today that there is a Russian fleet with landing ships approaching Odessa. We are truly surrounded now. There seems to be no way out. I think the Russians are hoping we’ll starve to death. That may be the case, as food has almost run out at the shelter. How I would love a nice chunk of bread and butter to eat and a fizzy orange drink.
We all had a good laugh last night when news arrived of a new evacuation corridor the Russians would not attack. Turns out the corridor led over the border to Russia – LMFHO (excuse my text speak). Unfortunately, some people accepted the offer; however, I think they’re just heading towards some type of concentration camps.
It looks like Ukraine is on its own. Sure, NATO will supply weapons, but no troops will be offered. That will be up to individuals to come and fight for our freedom, and some have done just that. If I was leader, I’d make them honorary citizens.
Can’t wait for tomorrow to see what grade I got. See you then, Diary.
I am so excited! Mr Kozak gave me an A-Plus for my crude attempt at Shakespeare. I so want to be a writer. There is much material being generated by this war, and I am going to dedicate my first book to telling the world what happened at ground level.
Our stage has been taken over by some new families, so Mr Kozak has moved most of us to the basement. He says it will provide more protection for us, but I’m not so sure. The ceiling above us is the wooden floor of the theatre upstairs, but we’re at one end and there are concrete walls we can press ourselves up against. Anyway, it’s a big building. Bombs would have to be very large to penetrate down here. Plus, it’s not a military target and the words “Children” have been painted on the parking lot ground, so pilots will know there are no soldiers here.
I want to write so much today. I’m thrilled by my top grade and I’m ever so chatty. I feel like I’m riding on a cloud with so much energy and there are so many ideas swimming around my head. This week’s assignment is to write about what your perfect world would look like after the war. We can use our own style and voice. Mr Kozak said to just let the words flow out of us, not to think too deeply but just follow our hearts. Just write truthfully, he says. So, here are my thoughts:
“My perfect world includes my mummah and Papa,
and a house surrounded by trees, fields,
and a lake to swim in.
Where freedom of choice is a given thing,
as freedom should not be something that needs to be won,
it should be a simple human right to live without repression,
without tyranny, and without fear.
In my perfect world,
hunger is something you experience between meals
and never between days.
Loneliness will be replaced with friendship, caring,
and love of your neighbour.
My perfect world will stretch out a helping hand to those that fall
and a comforting shoulder for those that grieve.
Love will be encouraged,
and hate will be convinced to see otherwise.
My perfect world would be heaven on Earth
with row upon row of Sunflowers to cheer the saddest of hearts,
All, in my perfect world…”
I’ll call that my first draft. It needs improving in places and could possibly be a little longer, but I’m getting a bit tired. Sleep deprivation has been daily. Too much noise here to sleep for very long. Anyway, I’m full of writing energy and looking forward to becoming a magician of the blank page later - after I lay down for a while.
** Note to self: **
Sleep well Nadiya and when you awake, remember to write true… Oh daughter of Ukraine…
The story you have just read is purely a work of fiction; however, the event is true.
On March 16, 2022, Russian artillery struck the Mariupol Theatre, destroying the building and killing over three hundred men, women, and children, sheltering in the basement.
Who knows how many hopes, dreams, and aspirations were extinguished on that fateful day when many flowers of Ukraine perished?
Rescue efforts were hampered by continued attacks on the area, delaying much needed medical treatment.
Ukrainian authorities described it as a war crime.
The Russians denied responsibility and simply blamed Ukrainian Neo-Nazis for the attack…
In the words of Nadiya, “Where are the Nazis?”
In this author’s opinion, when the invaders act like Nazis themselves, then it is time for thorough introspection of leadership…
Hopefully soon, that day of reckoning will come…