Dispatches from the Place of Imminence, part 14

August 29 – November 12, 2022

On August 29th, the Ukrainian army launched a spectacular counteroffensive towards the southern regions of Kherson and Mykolaiv. Western media mobilized, I received several requests for comments and interviews from Canada, but did not have the energy to follow through with it all. “What did you feel about the advance of the Ukrainian forces?” Honestly, I was in disbelief. No, not that… I guess it was just a sense of ultimate fragility when you fear that your words, whatever you have to say, may somehow cause an unexpected butterfly effect amid this chaos and the army retreats. I also braced myself to encounter, through various forms of documentation, what the Russian forces methodically leave behind – the atrocities. Widely disseminated torture facilities (by the end of October, we learnt about twenty-two torture rooms in the liberated Kharkiv region), mass graves in Izyum, and the eerie absence of men in Horlivka.

Maintaining my academic life in Canada and coping with these reports gave me a disorienting sense of the reality split. I nearly failed to start my undergraduate online course on Communication and Social Change, but somehow, I managed to collect myself and set everything up – having such TA as Pippa, whose mediation of the process helped me hugely, and she probably does not even know herself the extent of it.

Related or unrelated to the counteroffensive, the talk about a potential nuclear strike or an explosion at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant spread like aggressive cancer. On September 1st, fourteen IAEA inspectors with Rafael Grossi finally visited the Zaporizhzhia NPP despite the ongoing shelling. The inspectors spoke to the Ukrainian plant staff, but only under the supervision of the Russian military. They were also presented with so-called “maps of UA shelling” supported by the “undeniable proofs,” as documented here, of how Ukrainian projectiles make 180° turns before they stuck the ground. Grossi reported that the IAEA team gathered “a lot” of information even if just in a few hours.

A Twitter user tasked Stable Diffusion, the instant art generator released in August by Stability.ai, to show us how artists of the past might have depicted a nuclear war. The thread of such AI visions posted on September 2nd, began with the algorithmic Goya’s vision that, I thought, grasped well the oddity of our Zeitgeist.

On September 15th, as I was interviewed by CBC’s Chris Walker via WhatsApp, the air raid alarm app activated on my phone and killed the conversation – a reminder, I thought, of how delicate these channels are for the hardships of war: your voice is taken off the air so easily and precisely when you are under attack. CBC Kelowna reconnected with me in a week to continue the interview. I was impressed by such commitment; my experience with other news channels was the opposite – that of being easily discarded after minimal connection issues during news streams or discussion panels, often with the rest of experts presenting “alternative views” on the war in Ukraine, so that when you disappear from the air, they simply continue without the voice from Ukraine and never call back.

Same day, the voice – more important than mine – was heard. Yulia Paievska (“Taira”), the Ukrainian paramedic who was taken hostage on March 16, 2022 and released in a prisoner exchange on June 17th, testified in front of the Helsinki Commission. After she was captured, Paievska was processed as “material” for Russian propaganda in a 47-minute video that accuses her of using children as human shields and of harvesting organs. To produce this film, she was taken to an interrogation room, handcuffed and hooded, where Paievska was made to sit down under a harsh, bright light, responding to insane accusations and listening to “her story” narrated by the anchor going on and on about her alleged monstrosity. Later, things got much worse for her. As I listened to her long testimony of witnessing and enduring extreme torture in Russian captivity – so unbearable that her torturers themselves advised her to commit suicide, which Taira refused, what she said really resonated with me. She wanted, Taira said, “to see what will happen tomorrow” and “how far they can go in their madness and anger” – curiosity, she said, had been one of the reasons that allowed her to survive in hell.

On September 17th, the cinematographer Anton Yaremchuk arrived in Kamyanets-Podilsky to film a documentary on propaganda and war by Saskia Geisler and Kristian Kähler / Berlin Producers for WDR, ARTE, HR, DW, which I was involved with as a protagonist and an expert. With a degree from Karpenko-Karyi National University of Kyiv, Anton, a member of the Ukrainian Guild of Cinematographers and IMAGO, is based in Berlin. After the invasion, he came to Ukraine and founded an NGO with a broad scope of operations from evacuation missions at the frontline to cultural initiatives and rebuilding efforts. He was one of the last volunteers helping Ukrainian citizens to escape from Lysychansk before they were deported to Russia.

We met in the park at 7am, where Olya and I were jogging. With his sound-operator, they ran behind and in front of us, capturing this morning routine. A woman saw them filming and said she would call the police on us. Anton said he gets that a lot, “The further they are from the frontline, the more aggressively people react to cameras.” After the park, we all went down to the canyon. There I told about the new sentiment towards the land that many Ukrainians now share in the time of war, when the big lumps of the territory are occupied and destroyed. In the short intervals between filming scenes, Anton kept receiving calls and messages – people arranging a time and place for his team to pick them up before a deadly encounter with the Russian forces. Saskia and Kristian also needed the footage with my mother and father, but unfortunately, several days prior, my mother’s heart gave up, I called the ambulance, but they were not able to help. She was taken to the intensive care department of the city hospital. We could only film how I went to see her in a cab, since, understandably, the team was not allowed to go inside the hospital. The nurses near the hospital also threatened to call the police, even though guys were just standing there waiting for me. My father, when we arrived, was picking apples and he was angry, did not want me to help him when I offered, even pushed me away at some point, it probably got on camera. I am still curious about his intentional performance.

I was scheduled to travel to Berlin at the beginning of October for the rest of filming to take place in a studio set along with other experts, Greg Yudin from Russia, now in the States,  philosopher and sociologist at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Science, whose work I had followed over a couple of years, and a communication scientist, publicist and cultural journalist of the year in 2021, Samira el Ouassil from Germany. At the end of September, while all tickets were booked, the trip still seemed impossible to me. But then I managed to arrange a room for my parents at Turbota, a recreation facility, where they could stay while I was gone to Germany. Two weeks are free, and then there is a fee, which I paid, but was also asked to buy 20 kg of detergent for the institution, rolls of garbage bags, and a folding dryer rack, in addition to a toilet chair that was set in my parents’ room. After spending several hours there, my mother started coughing, so I also bought a radiator to use until the central heating is turned on in mid-October (as I later learned, my parents were not allowed to use the radiator after I left Ukraine, their room remained cold, and my father got sick). Persuading my parents to stay at Turbota was hard, and I still cannot explain how I eventually managed to do so. I brought them there a week before I was scheduled to leave, which gave me some time to concentrate on preparations for traveling and arranging things for their prolonged stay there.

On September 20th, I met with my friend Yulia, who was mobilized to the army. Although she was scheduled to leave next day, Yulia was still missing boots. Despite that 30% of our soldiers are women, army boots for them are scarce. We went to a shoe store, where she picked up some boots that resembled military ones, and I gladly sponsored this part of her uniform.

In a cab to visit my parents in Turbota, on September 21st, the radio was on, and I listened to one of the first reports coming from the de-occupied areas. That story was about Kupyansk. “There was a basement at the police department, where people were kept,” a witness told the reporter, “when you walk on the street near it, there were always screams of men and women tortured there.” On September 23rd, the experts from the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, mandated by Human Rights Council earlier this year, who have so far focused on four regions — Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy, and overall 27 towns and settlements, as well as graves, detention and torture centers — and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses, presented the evidence that Russian soldiers were found to have committed crimes of sexual or gender-based violence – with victims ranging between the ages of 4 to 82 years old.

That day, a total of 215 Ukrainian defenders, including two Azov Regiment leaders were released from Russian captivity as part of the prisoner exchange. Demonized and reified by being turned into “material” by Russian propaganda that uses torture rooms as their micro studios for squeezing confessions – literally, squeezing them with the tools – these soldiers of Ukrainian army, according to the Russian and DPR officials, were supposed to undergo public “Nazi trials” while locked in cages, which were built and proudly displayed by propagandists for months. After all that hysteria, the show was cancelled, when they had to be exchanged for Putin’s friend, the king of Ukrainian corruption Viktor Medvedchuk. The video of the exchange was published. Seeing their bodies that lost half of their normal weight and had been transformed by torture was excruciating, but also gave an enormous relief. I felt almost dizzy looking at the footage of them moving towards the Ukrainian side: the exchange spared them this tragic show, they survived, they witnessed, they are the testimony.

On September 23rd-27th, Russian-installed officials staged referendums on the annexation of occupied territories of Ukraine, and on September 30th, Putin announced the annexation of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine in an address to both houses of the Russian parliament. The footage from security cameras in the apartment buildings of these regions circulated on social media, like that from Energodar, often showing groups of several representatives of the “new government” with voting ballots accompanied by two or more Russian soldiers armed with machine guns. This is how “people’s desire to be with Russia” is manufactured on the occupied territories. Despite that people rarely opened doors and by any means possible escaped the voting process, on September 27th, Russian officials of the Central Election Commission in Zaporizhzhia claimed that the referendum passed, with 93.11% (of 541,093 voters) favouring to join the Russian Federation; the support for the annexation was 90.01% in the Melitopol community, while in its administrative center, Melitopol, it was 96.78%.

The evening of September 27th was good: I texted six friends at the frontlines in the east and south – all responded within one hour. When that happens, it feels like magic. On September 28th, I met with Daniel, who taught me how to use the Kalashnikov several days prior to the invasion, and who was seriously wounded in June, survived, underwent surgeries, and was waiting in Kamyanets to be called back to the front. We met at Zagata, our local beer place, to talk with him and his brother about the scope of war pollution that they witnessed first-hand, but after many beers and other evolving topics we realized it was way after the curfew, so they offered to walk me home. On the way, we talked about the limits of violence in war. “What do you think about the Russian’s violence in Bucha? Why? How do you explain it to yourself?” I asked. “Sometimes I think they are so lost, especially those who do not have training and war experience that it seems they have to prove to themselves and others that they are fearless, that they are not afraid to kill a human in a perverse way.” On September 29th, Daniel and I went for a morning walk. “I made a decision that I won’t let them capture me. When I was laying on the field with a metal fragment penetrating my body, bleeding and immobile, I had my hand on a grenade, ready to detonate it. Then I heard someone speaking Russian, but when they almost approached me, and it was that moment, I could not do it. I just could not do it.” In what happened next, several Russian-speaking Ukrainian soldiers rescued him, a Russian-speaking Ukrainian soldier, from a double-bind of death.

Packing my suitcase was hard. Within the last three years I travelled only twice – one-way from Canada to Ukraine and I made a round trip last year to a conference in Germany. Closer to midnight, on September 30th, trying to recall, in a disbelief, how good I was at packing, I stood, lost, in my living room, lights on, among things and suitcases that did not want to form one assemblage. I also felt almost nauseous sensing the upcoming jailbreak. At 3am, on October 1st, my driver called me, letting me know he was near the building. I made it downstairs with my luggage. The driver looked like a schoolboy, so did the girl in the car, who let me sit on the front seat instead of her. It was pretty clear they just had sex. I wondered if he, they, were already 18 – the way they looked they could have been much younger – and I asked him, just in case, if he had the pass to drive after the curfew. He said, with a Romanian accent, that the pass was not needed, and we left Kamyanets in a complete darkness – streetlights all off – towards the Romanian border. Having passed kilometers of tracks – I think he said twenty kilometers – waiting for processing at the border, we suddenly turned left off the road “to drop off the girl.” Then he drove me to a gas station where we met his father, they switched cars, and I crossed the border with a new driver heading towards Bucharest. The driver-father was chatting all the way through – telling me about the refugee crisis at the border during the first month of the invasion, how the work of accommodating refugees was masterfully handled by Romanians; he was also interrogating me on the matter of my private life, offering his wisdom on what a man wants from a woman, as it is usually done in this part of the world.

The weather in Bucharest was so warm and different from the early chills in Ukraine that I felt even more disoriented. I was slowly figuring out the shift in reality. Niels might have seen that, and he told me on one of the walks as I was holding him back by waiting for all cars to pass, “Svitlana, you can cross the streets with confidence, you are in the European Union now.” A shady green park, a shabby empty pond in the midst of it, pretty neighborhoods that we browsed without a particular reason – the unbearable lightness of being on the other side of this war.

On October 3rd, I took the flight to Berlin. Asia met me at the airport, I kissed her, my eyes were wet. We got on the train and headed to her apartment when a sequence of “unfortunate events” was brought to us via various channels impacting short- and long-term life plans and hopes. There was a lot to deal with. Svitlana, my friend, who was traveling around Europe since our summer in Kamyanets-Podilsky, was waiting for me in Berlin. She joined us at Asia’s spacious place in the afternoon, as well as Asia’s two friends from Kyiv. When on the next day I tested positive for Covid, these people, quite bravely, persuaded me to stay in the apartment even though the producers whom I informed about the situation immediately booked me a hotel. We were careful. And we were loving to each other. I self-isolated in my room. Paradoxically, living through Covid felt like a vacation compared to what I had been through a week before that. I had a reason to delay all deadlines without remorse. This year I got two boosters, in April and in September, so it might be the reason why I came out of Covid, again – paradoxically, rested and energized, something I had not experienced in a long, long while. The documentary script was modified by the Berlin Producers to film all three experts separately, and I, unfortunately, did not get a chance to meet Greg and Samira in person. My filming was postponed for a week, until a negative test result.

Berlin met me covered with Ukrainian flags. When I first saw that, my heart started racing, but on the same day, a German man disclosed to me in a conversation, “I do not understand why Ukrainians and Russians are fighting.” Seeing our flags decorating the buildings’ façades became uneasy after that, as it constantly took me back to that confession. To comfort myself, I imagined how one day real decolonial initiatives would move from the façades to the insides of these museums, universities, municipal and governmental offices so that they might stop reproducing the northern narratives that already created so much misconception about Ukraine’s community, history, culture, and politics, that it will take us decades to undo. A glance at the work of Ukrainian Art History, @ukr_arthistory, Twitter account might be a good start to see how such institutions as the Art Institute of Chicago, MoMA, Guggenheim, Tate, the National Gallery of Arts in Washington DC, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Met – the list is endless – have all have been complicit in institutionalizing the Russian imperial practices of cultural appropriation – and continue to do so during this genocidal war – which creates the regimes where understanding our struggle is simply not possible.

On October 8th, one day after Putin’s birthday, an explosion seriously damaged the Crimean Bridge that remains a symbol of the Russian occupation of the peninsula and a core element in the logistical military infrastructure, reducing the transport capacity of the bridge used to supply Russian troops stationed in occupied Crimea. Built by the Russian Federation right after the annexation in 2014 and becoming operational at the end of 2019, the bridge has been perceived my many, myself included, as a case of Russian invasive infrastructural politics, signaling the possibility of a full-scale invasion that I wrongly believed would not take place. The excitement disseminating via Ukrainian social media was overwhelming. Ukraine denied responsibility for the explosion. The possibility of a partisan insurgency or Russian local power struggles were also discussed and considered. Russia called it an “act of terrorism,” which did not stop the invader from retaliating by massive rocket strikes on civilian areas in Kyiv and other cities.

On the same day, Putin appointed a new commander for all forces in Ukraine, Sergey Surovikin, often regarded by the international experts as “brutal and corrupt.” In Russia, he is primarily known for his role in the failed 1991 coup, after which Surovikin was imprisoned because his troops killed three pro-democracy protesters, but was freed a few months later. In the end of the 1990s, he was imprisoned again for illegal arms trading, but his sentence was suspended on appeal. The new appointment of Surovikin, however, was linked by his latest service as the Commander of the Russian Group of Forces in Syria, where he oversaw the bombardment of Aleppo in 2016. His campaigns of intentionally targeting civic authorities to the degree where they become dysfunctional were cited by war experts as his signature strategy for demoralizing and weakening civilian resistance by making their life impossible or miserable.

Only one day after assuming his new command, Surovikin initiated a missile offensive. On October 10th, eleven important infrastructure facilities in eight regions and the city of Kyiv were damaged as a result of the strikes by more than eighty-three missiles – Kh-101, Kh-555, Kalibr and Iskander, along with the S-300 and Tornado missile systems, and seventeen Iranian-made Shahed drones launched from the territory of Belarus. About 30% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure was damaged. A huge missile bombardment of residential areas in Zaporizhzhia alone killed at least seventeen people. To calm down, Svitlana and I walked Berlin streets in silence like the agents of another world until we found Berlin’s two wonderful bookstores St George’s bookshop in Prenzlauerberg and Proqm, recommended by my friend Ben Woodard, where I bought myself a rescue library – Calamity Theory; Climate Machines, Fascist Drives, and Truth; Down to Earth; The Democracy of Species; Exterranian; The Geofinancial Lexicon; Uncanny and Improbable Events. Is that what you read when your country is immersed in terror? The streets were sunny. Nobody, not even good Russians, protested the military aggression anywhere in the city. There was no hint whatsoever of what was going on. Wendy immediately wrote to me, and we set a zoom-call in the evening. She said what she always says, “Svitlana, come home.” So grateful. And yet, my home has become a place of unmediated pain, running through all routes and routines. The rest of the world, where this war is perceived as a theory, as an abstract construction, a case of remote sensing and probabilities, is just the rest of the world, the unheimlich.

Big corporations have been acting like states for quite some time and the latest instance of a corporate CEO playing geopolitics is Musk. His Twitter referendums on Crimea must become a textbook case of the corporate platforms’ delusional self-perception as a digital public sphere. The connection between the Russia-style referendums on the occupied territories and Musk’s referendums is also straightforward. Between Musk and someone like American communist Joshua Y Jackson, whose spring posts enticing violence of Ukrainians broadcasted to twenty thousand followers are now deleted, it’s hard to deny that “free speech” has become so cheap, so disgustingly irresponsible that sometimes I think some users should be charged a fee, like in psychoanalysis, before they force their symptoms and fantasies onto remote audiences. Although, this is, too, an utterly bad idea.

Amid the waves of Surovikin’s attacks, one thousand three hundred Starlink terminals were shut down due to a lack of payment, despite the initial guarantees. A whole week of conflicting messages from all sides resulted in their work resuming, but it certainly demonstrated how unreliable this support actually is and how corporate interests shift where the wind blows.

Because the Russian rockets are not precise and usually miss the targets by about 500 meters, their army recently switched to drones, 30% of which reach the targets with a higher precision. Overall, this war demonstrates a diverse use of drones – for reconnaissance, direct-attack, fire-correction, harassment, and aerial combat. One particular function has been the production of terror. They fly low, which helps them escape radar detection, and they often arrive unnoticed. They are also much slower than rockets, so the sirens, if the defense system registers drones, may last for several hours even in the relatively safe regions like mine. People recognize drones by their particular motorcycle sound; we call them “deadly sky motorcycles.”

Despite their ability to evoke terror that can paralyze you or make you dysfunctional, after the drone attack on October 17th, when Iranian kamikaze drones got through the Ukrainian air defense system and hit Kyiv’s city center, a warning was issued by the Ukrainian authorities to stop shooting drones from the ground and leave air defence to the military. We kept reading about it all day driving back to Ukraine, Svitlana and I. The departure from Berlin was emotional. The day before, Asia, Svitlana and I went to Potsdam – to walk through the castle parks, where the sense of war reality was lifted even more. The virtual peace. The Matrix. Somehow, I don’t have many recollections from that day and evening apart from the sun, yellow leaves, photographing, and the taste of good food. As we were loading into Svitlana’s car next morning, Asia stood near us with a film camera in her hands. It would be curious to glance at those photos one day to see if they captured the fragility of the moment, the acute sense of separation, and our hesitancy about whether we should hide or show our feelings.

After a night stay in Krakow, on October 18th, we moved towards the Ukrainian border. Crossing over, after a four-hour wait in line, felt like entering a realm where the European Matrix of safety rapidly self-destructed. Ukraine met us with its foggy fields and local shitheads breaking all the driving rules, but at least, we won’t fall asleep, we thought, during the next six hours of our way to Kamyanets-Podilsky. I noticed, too, how all memories of the past three weeks and sensual experiences I lived there, no matter how much I wanted them to stay with me, began withdrawing – like a sea wave I had hallucinated – with the speed of us heading east, driving – as fast as possible in twilight – our bad, bad roads on the way home.

On October 20th, the Dutch Parliament votes in support for the creation of a special tribunal in The Hague to prosecute Russian military and political leaders for invading Ukraine. I so hope this is a beginning of a new epoch.

By the end of October, when already 40% of energy infrastructure was destroyed, planned or unplanned power outages became the norm all over Ukraine. The ongoing effort to reconstruct and stabilize our infrastructure in extreme conditions determines our workers’ daily heroism. I heard about one station near Kyiv that has already been hit seven times, constantly targeted by Russian rockets, but every time it comes out repaired and working due to the high-risk labour performed by the infrastructure workers. As of late, the reports tell us about 90% of Ukraine’s wind energy infrastructure, including about 40-50% of the solar energy infrastructure, being destroyed as well. In the meanwhile, we are told not to fear a total blackout, which can only happen if all nuclear stations are destroyed or shut down. We are used to a comfortable life, like everyone, but discomfort does not mean danger. We should survive.

The challenges of handling overloads and redistributing energy flows are real, however. Problems with internet connectivity is still bearable but has its difficulties. When power is shut down, we switch to mobile internet that dies out after an hour without power, so that even browsing becomes hard. Apparently, the providers use reserve generators that can last for only four to five hours. Besides, these generators do not handle severe overloads and repeated outages, they take twenty-hour cycles to charge. For example, one station of a mobile provider needs ten to twelve generators to compensate for regular and irregular power outages. Kyivstar operates thirteen thousand stations. Due to the cost and the complexities of delivering logistics, the company has recently ordered twenty thousand generators to support only two thousand of their thirteen thousand stations. Wouldn’t it be great for us to have a better air defence system?

On October 22nd, there was another massive strike by thirty-six Russian rockets, most of which were shut down, but several of them still hit the energy infrastructure, including in my region, finally persuading me to think of potential survival strategies for a winter with minimal to no power. I purchased a portable gas stove Happy Home BDZ-155-A with a bunch of butane-propane cartridges, which felt like a hugely significant, grounding event amid this chaos. The portable stoves are now hard to get, so it felt like a treasure. I also have two power banks, several FFP2, FFP3 masks, batteries, bottles of water.

Walking around my town on October 23rd, I saw a sign on the window of a military equipment store with the line “camouflage for children” placed on the top of the available item list including “chevrons,” “ammunition,” and “military equipment.” Next day, I read on Twitter that a company in Lviv launched children’s bulletproof vest and helmet combos into serial production. The online forum discussing their design debated whether they are too bright (orange) or too heavy (two kilos) for kids to wear and how protective they are, and whether they are for kids who are far from the frontline or directly in the war zone. “Cover fabric – Cordura 1000 den and Oxford 600 den (analogous fabrics are used for military armor vests). Protective element – ultrahigh molecular ballistic polyethylene. Standards: class 1 DSTU 8782:2018 armor vest; with anti-debris endurance V50 not less than 500 m/s by Stanag 2920 standard. Helmet by NIJ IIIA standard (military helmet S and M sizes).”

On October 27th, Ukraine presented the updated Delta Real-Time Battle Management System during a closed event of the NATO Tide Sprint conference. This situational awareness system makes planning combat operations more convenient by allowing the military exchange information in the theater of war. Next day, on November 1st, the Russian side disseminated disinformation that the system was hacked by Joker DPR (Джокер ДНР) who told Russian state news agency РИА Новости that hacking it was not too hard and that he infected all computers that were using Delta. Joker DPR also shared several screenshots of Delta’s user interfaces and advised the Ukrainian military to use paper maps instead. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense denied the hack. To clarify, the member of the Ukrainian Cyber Alliance, RUH8, wrote that a hacking attempt on Delta did have place in August, when the Russian hackers tricked several Delta users via phishing attacks and the screenshots originate from that time; besides, the developments at the front over last two months prove that the hackers did not go deep into the system beyond the main interface. Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov, representing the team of developers, said that “Delta provides a comprehensive understanding of the battle space in real time” by integrating information about the enemy from various sensors and sources, including those from intelligence and, by synthesising it in a form of a digital map that can be run easily on any device – a laptop, tablet, or mobile phone. “It is an investment in the army of the future,” he said. How can we prevent it transferring to the realm of peace, after the war is over? Can we?

On November 4th, the discourse of the Russian propagandists’ changes. On October 25th, the Security Council of the Russian Federation announced that instead of “denazification,” they would now carry on a campaign of “desatanization” of Ukraine (in the words, no less than Assistant Secretary of the Russian Security Council Alexey Pavlov). Term “special operation” seems to be dropped, as the “operation” now turns into not just “war,” but “holy war.” As clarified by Russian fascist philosopher Alexander Dugin, who agrees with Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov, Russia is fighting a “holy war against the satanic West,” and it is a “final apocalyptic, eschatological battle against Antichrist.” It may seem that it is one thing to hear such announcements from Russian TV personalities like Solovyov whose job is to perform transgressive enunciations by constantly crossing the lines further beyond good and evil, expanding the limits of hate and verbal abuse that translates into physical abuse on the occupied territories; and it is another thing when such words come from the Russian Security Council and are transmitted by ТАСС. But no, in total war, you’ve got a total synchronization of state apparatuses.

My father is basically blind now because of his cataracts. On November 3rd, I took him to the eye clinic where we spent five hours doing different procedures and testing for a potential surgery, which was scheduled for the following week. But on Saturday, November 5th, he had a micro-stroke, or so it seemed, when he could not speak for some minutes, producing just sounds, and I called the emergency service. After his speech returned, it was decided that we need to deal with his heart first. On November 7th, I checked my father into the cardiology department of our local hospital. I am extremely happy that I managed to find a woman who could stay with my mother in the meantime, since she is no longer able to even heat some water. My mother also stopped eating entirely and we are dealing with this issue too with the help of our family doctor. Even though I still must spend time with both of them daily, when I bring my father home-cooked food to the hospital in the early mornings and then check on my mother on the way from his hospital, having Nina to stay with her for six hours every day helps immensely.

On November 10th, I got an evening call from the cardiology department and a nurse, very mysteriously, asked me to come to the hospital immediately. I cancel all Zoom meetings, call a cab and head to the hospital located on the outskirts of our town. “The doctor wants to tell you something,” she says, when I arrived. “What happened?” “The doctor will tell you; your father is very bad.” I rush to the room, when my father is half-conscious, with his nose running and pants wet, and is trying to sit on the bed but falling and I grasp him to help balance his body, so he does not hit the wall with his head. He does not recognize me. The nurse is cleaning his urine on the floor. Half an hour later, the doctor comes and calls me out of the room, so I pass by father’s body to the nurse to hold. “Your father has just tested positive for Covid,” the doctor tells me as I am standing without a mask, and so is everyone else – two other elderly patients with a heart condition and the nurses. “I called for an ambulance, you can either take him home or to a regional hospital where they have a department for treating patients with Covid.” The nurse brings a wheelchair and asks for my help to transfer my hundred-kilo man into it. We lift him, under the doctor’s observation, as I beg my back to not crack. The wheelchair is small and broken, so my father does fit into it really, but we squeeze him in anyway by making him lean towards one side, sitting on one half of his butt, but this way one of his legs constantly gets caught by the wheel and I run near it to help every time it happens, while the nurse rolls the chair to the first floor for the ambulance to transfer him to a different hospital.

While I am waiting for the doctor at the regional hospital to give me her thoughts on my father’s condition after the transfer, I think whether or not, and if yes, then how to tell my mother about it. It’s the evening, Nina is not there with her, she is alone, my meetings are already canceled, so I might as well just go there and tell her in person and calm her down. Wait. I cannot! I’ve just spent half an hour with my father, I might need a test myself. The doctor approaches to tell me they will deal with my father now, I can go home, the treatment is free, no charge. I get out of the hospital building, but I cannot go anywhere just yet. I start walking around the parking lot putting my thoughts in order. As I was making circles, I remember, I was talking on the phone with someone, but now I do not remember who. Then I was texting someone I do remember. “Please tell me something nice, something from a different reality.” I look at the utterly beautiful mountain in Rio for some munities, then call a cab, put on a mask, and go home.

In the evenings, when the tiredness builds up, hearing a siren, even if there are no strikes, has become unbearable. After getting used to the alarms over the past months, my perception is undergoing an estrangement, and I often catch myself having rather different visceral responses to the wailing. Could it be that this is the impact of what happened on October 30th, when the rockets perplexed me by the weight of their sound flying above my head. Now, when the long sirens go off, I suffer an invasion of fatigue and light anxiety, a bit of heart racing and panic. The symptoms are not too strong, but annoyingly consistent so that despite how much I try, I do not control them. I made a decision to stop sharing my emotions on Twitter, which, to be honest, used to give me a simple relief before.

The end of the year, when everyone is tired, coincides with this stage of the war, when everyone seems to assume that we are surviving just fine. I do not receive many alarmed messages, in fact, I do not receive them at all. Except for the editors with whom I negotiate endlessly postponed writing deadlines and my three close people, who are far from me but stay in touch, the world is pretty much withdrawn in non-communication, which is not something I find difficult to bear, on the contrary, I try learning the nuances of living this solitude. What is “the world,” anyway? If anything, I’ve learned that the world of three people is the most beautiful and, despite what we have been preached for decades – all you need. During the long hours of sirens, when they cybernetically evoke my new symptoms messing my ability to work, I hide in what I consider the safest and the coziest place in my apartment – my bedroom, where I am right now, which also looks and feels, for all reasons you can imagine in war, as Schrödinger’s box.

At the market, on November 12th, I am looking for tea for my parents. A woman at the counter suddenly says to me, “I don’t know if we ever forget what they did, even in a hundred years.” I look at her, wondering what provoked this commentary, but I don’t have a clue. It must have that we all here, even when we are silent, carry on this conversation about the war: once in a while, it surfaces, sometimes, in the middle of a thought, or remains a flow of consciousness, affect, or energy unwrapped in words. “We will not forget,” I say, “but for our sake, we need to learn how to live with this memory for the next several hundred years.”

Niels writes from Rio, my early morning, late evening there, telling me about his trip to a Favela and a workshop he ran there – “Everything was about war.” I text back. “Wait. You are awake?!” “Since 4am.” “Alarm?” “No, habit.” Then I am left thinking whether this habit is linked to the war, because that’s how he might have read my words. No, it’s older. It began even before I got the job at SFU. It began in London, Ontario, after my first visit to Ukraine in twelve years, as I went there with Nick for our field research on cyberwar in 2015. When I came back to Canada, my jetlag opened a time-space as a possibility of being alone for once in a house I shared with five people. It was then, that I got to love reading in these dark early hours, regardless the season, to love such morning darkness on the edge of dawn for how surreally peaceful my world felt. In the time of war, in these hours, I write my dispatches instead of reading. So, I am usually awake, dressed and with my hair done when air raid alarms go off at around 5am, and by then, which is important, I’ve already had my first coffee.