Transposing emblem by Gennady Bondarenko

“Hybrid war” – this is what is going in the east of my country. This is a very strange kind of war. It continues just tens kilometers from my hometown. But hardly anyone calls it what it is – a war. In some places, people are dying or losing their homes, their property. Or they have to drop everything and flee. Leave behind all they have earned for years and thought they would give to their children. Refugees are coming to my town and I see the incomprehension in their eyes. Why? For what? Why us? And I just don’t know what to tell them if they ask me. Because life looks so peaceful and stable from here. And no one calls it war – just… instability.

You never notice the air when there is plenty of it for you to breathe freely.

I saw her walking with her little dog on my street and recognized her at once, although we hadn’t seen each other for many years. She was my former classmate. Her parents live on a street nearby. But she left our town long ago. She went to live there, in Donbas, where the war is now. She married there, and lived with her family – this is all I knew about her. She recognized me too. Some uncertainty flashed in her eyes. But still she nodded welcomingly, and I approached. “You are here, too? Staying away from all those bandits who invaded from abroad?” – I said straight up, without mincing words, to avoid any uneasiness and indirect conversation afterwards. I thought I read some relief and even thankfulness in her gaze. “So you are on our side.” – she said, – “Well, never mind, I surely had no doubt about you.”

She started to explain why they fled: “You here, with this peace all around you, just cannot imagine what it is like, all that is going on there. You sort of live your life as you used to, but… would you believe it: my husband and I went to our dacha one weekend. Worked on our vegetable patch. As it turned out, a group of bandits was nearby and attacked the National Guard unit. The fire fight started from one side, then from another, and we, still standing over all those sprouts, with hoes in our hands, got caught in the cross fire! You just cannot imagine what it feels like! My husband shouted to me: ‘Down!’ And I fell on my back and covered my face with my hands. But he roared: ‘Quick, take cover! Move on and crouch in that ditch!’ I crawled on my stomach and we curled up there huddling together while bullets whizzed just above our heads. I’m not exaggerating. This is the truth. I prayed to God, promised that from then on I would behave well, quit smoking, start a new life.”

Listening to her story I involuntary looked away and rested my gaze on the familiar objects around me. The sun was shining brightly on the rooftops – no signs at all that anything would ever change for us here. She seemed to read my thoughts. “You know, when we arrived here, the very first day, and came to my parents’ house, they were quick to pull down the shades on the window – because the day was hot and the sun blazed through the window. But my husband pleaded: ‘Please, don’t! We’ve been sitting in the basement for the last two days, when they shelled our district! We miss the sunlight so much!’”

“You see, we had to call it quits – because, as it seems, it is not the end of the mess there … maybe quite the contrary – the real big trouble is still ahead. So we are lucky to have my parents here. Our daughter is already grown up and self-sufficient. We sent her to Kiev to finish her studies there, farther away from here. And hopefully we can start on a new place.”

Why us? Why has it happened to us? Everything was so stable and peaceful. Why has it changed beyond recognition? I’m glad I wasn’t asked this question personally, still living my quiet life in a safe, peaceful town. Probably, if asked, I would go into some lengthy reasoning trying to find some kind of soothing answer, some reassuring explanation. A bigger picture of some sort: everything that happens is not accidental; it’s for good reason. So you ask me, why us? Let’s look at it from a different perspective – why our country, our people? If I could, I would recall a passage from some clever book about the Hundred Years War or the Black Death in medieval Europe. People died in the millions then. And the best died first trying to help others (“feast in a time of plague” – they called it for a reason). But exactly this catastrophe turned out to be a sort of a passage to a new epoch in Europe, to what we know today. New clergy came in to replace the priests who were called to give communion to the dying and dead – and they were new people with a renaissance mentality (for there were no other educated ones). Ownerless property and money promoted the development of banking capital. Abandoned fields with no one to cultivate them were turned into sheep pastures, ultimately contributing to the industrial revolution. Even the heaps of rags left after those who died became the paper for new renaissance books. Europe was rising little by little – but this was a new Europe. Yes, “instability” had ruined those former traditional ways of life – but it also created the new paths we know today.

What if something similar in nature is happening to my country now? Something new and unseen is dawning here that will help us find ourselves and find our true identity. And in this terrible schism, everything we want to get rid of will perish, and a Ukraine of the new will emerge, as a new Europe emerged. As we cannot vanish for nothing, leaving no trace behind, can we?

Hmm… Do I believe such an explanation myself? Maybe there are others, better ones. Seems that I know whom to ask for those. I have a friend, although we don’t know each other personally, only on Facebook. He is a reputed historian who wrote lots of books on Ukraine’s history. Now he’s a refugee too, and lives in the west of the country. I open his Facebook feed updates and his latest post attracts my attention at once. And this particular post of his is not about the Cossacks. Reading it I sort of rub my eyes in distrust. They are the words of an utterly tired and desperate person: “My kid was bullied there in Donetsk because he spoke Ukrainian and not Russian. Now they beat him here in Lviv because he’s a relocatee from the east.”

A few minutes later this post disappeared from his Facebook page. I understand why he deleted it. But still I can’t stop feeling uncomfortable. What on earth is this hybrid war? What if, in reality, it is something we carry with us wherever we go? And when the aggregation of those individual instabilities reaches some sort of critical mass it explodes? What if everything that is happening with us now, with our country and our people, is not a transition phase at all… not a “right of passage” of some sort, but the real war that follows us from place to place, and from century to century, unless… unless we stop it, one way or another.

And… yes, surely we will stop this war, hybrid or not hybrid. And we will find our answers: solid and definite ones. But not now, it seems … some other day maybe… when peace settles in and we can hoe the vegetable patch and won’t notice the air we breathe, but will know whether it, this war, was hybrid or real.