100 days of war

at bukovets

It was at Bukovets—a mountain village in the Carpathians—where I received the phone call that distant relatives had learned of my visit to my grandfather’s village a few days earlier and were driving to my hotel to meet me later that day. In Bukovets, there was a celebration, a huge meal, dancing, and then the school teacher, who spoke English, told us, You are Ukrainian. This is your country, your land. Come again, bring your children, your grandchildren. Although I was in Ukraine and although I had a Ukrainian grandfather, I didn’t—couldn’t—think of myself as Ukrainian. Could I? My daughter? My husband, born in Yorkshire? A man pounded the table and said, You are married to a Ukrainian woman so you are Ukrainian! He toasted us with the fiery horilka flavoured with mountain ginseng.

I’ve thought of that afternoon in sunlight, at a table high on a mountain slope, so often in the past 100 days. The beautiful music, food enough to feed an entire village, glasses replenished over and over again. I loved the cornmeal banosh, made with salo, salty cheese, and sour cream. Loved the cucumber salad with handsful of ferny dill strewn over the slices, the varenyky filled with cherries, sprinkled with sugar, and served with more of that rich sour cream. Women kept streaming out of a summer kitchen with platters and bowls, refilling our plates, pushing away our hands because why would anyone refused another helping of this food? Eat, eat! These are your people!

Today in the Guardian, Volodymyr Zelenskiy says that Russian forces are occupying about 20% of Ukraine’s territory. Children are being removed to Russia. New sanctions are announced and new weapons packages are being offered. Breaches of international law are discussed as though anyone at this point has the will or the ability to enforce these.

Here on the very edge of the Pacific, with a blue sky and birdsong, I am again wondering what to do. The bowl of dill in my greenhouse is green and ferny and tonight I’ll snip it over buttered noodles, try my hand at banosh. Looking out at the morning, I am reading poetry, which Auden told us makes nothing happen but survives in the valley of its making. I am thinking of the green valley below Bukovets, sheep with their long fleeces carrying wildflower seeds from one field to another.

Every hut in our beloved country is on the edge.
And to be honest, I’m on the edge, too.
I feel sorry for the ones at the center, but really I’m especially sorry for the ones in the camp towers, watching the frosty distance.
           —Boris Khersonsky, trans. by Amelia Glaser and Yuliya Ilchuk

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