Mama was telling me how she and Tato got to our apartment in Mariupol: «The left bank is completely destroyed. It’s impossible to live there. We were reluctantly let through by the UAF, given no guarantees that we would return alive. But you know Tato and me: we’re the kind that can get through anywhere.»
My mother had to get into the apartment at all costs, because—here I have to be careful—my Canadian diploma, the Narbut collection published by Rodovid, the Harvard blanket that I had completely forgotten about, and my mother’s gold ring were all there. Plus a million family photos, where we were happy, together.
«Ma, those are just things, for Pete’s sake! You could have been killed.»
In response, she only made a joke of it, persuading me yet again that in this kind of situation, only a sense of humor can help. And then she said something important:
«You know, this war’s primarily about values. And these are the values in our family. We left the pillows and the blankets behind, but we took your Narbut, because we know how much you were waiting for this book. We took photo albums because they are our memories, and no one can take them away. You know, no one can really take anything from us at all.»
Then there were six days of silence, that made themselves known loud and clear in photos and videos of air raids, Grad missiles, the destroyed maternity hospital, and then, reports of mass graves and 1,500 killed. Sitting in the relative safety of Vinnytsia Oblast those six days, I felt barely alive: as if I, not they, was taken hostage and was being prepared for demonstrative mass execution.
Just today, my mother was able to break through for about 30 seconds and tell me that they are alive.
«Natalia,» she said cheerfully, «I'm keeping a diary for you. I write in it every day.»
I didn’t have time to ask her about water, food or a bomb shelter. I just thought: My Anne Frank. Your story matters. And I really want the world to hear it. I’m ready to wait for it, as well as millions of other Ukrainian stories of resistance and resilience. No matter what, they certainly can’t take them away from us.
Natalia, originally from Mariupol