Radiant darkness. Notes of a Lithuanian poet from a trip through the de-occupied Kyiv region
Marius Burokas is one of the initiators of the creation of a volunteer center dedicated to collecting aid for Ukraine on the basis of the Literary Fund of the Writers’ Union of Lithuania. Together with colleagues and co-initiators of the center, Laurinas Katkus and Donatas Petrosius, he came to Ukraine several times. He wrote this essay after visiting Kyiv and the region last December. He was accompanied on the trip by members of the Ukrainian PEN, in particular Kateryna Mikhalitsyna, whom Maryus mentions later. Kateryna translated the essays of Marius from Lithuanian for UP.Zhyttia, which was first published in the magazine “Penkiolika” this February. *** Because even our darkness is different. Our darkness is such that you can cut it with a knife and feed it – feed our sick, lonely, crippled, exiled, tired. Ostap Slyvinsky We are in the yard of the Irpin high-rise that was fired upon and burned. Kateryna bends down and picks up the broken school globe from the wet asphalt. “This is my world,” he says. You can’t start essays or texts like that. Somehow too sentimental. Manipulative. However, I do not manage to write something beautiful, polished. I’m just testifying to what I saw. And let it be so. Photo by Kateryna Mikhalitsyna, Irpin, December 2022 I didn’t think Irpin was so big. And what is so beautiful here: pine forests, hills, a river. We are standing near a destroyed bridge, under which hundreds of people were hiding from the Russian shelling. Nearby, Turkish builders have already started building a new one. This one, falling apart, will remain here as a memory. I take a photo and immediately understand the futility of this action. We pass a building, it seems, a former cultural center. In the broken window you can see neatly hung concert clothes… A cemetery of burned and shot cars (on the doors of several of them is the inscription “Death to looters”). A ruined stadium. A stork’s nest and the birds in it are painted on the wall, riddled with bullets and shrapnel. The foundation of a large burned shopping center. Memory cards from hell. It hurts so much it’s hard to breathe. Photo by Kateryna Mikhalitsyna, Irpin, December 2022. We are standing among the destroyed Irpin high-rise buildings, watching a local utility worker measure Banksy’s graffiti on the wall with a bright yellow meter. “And what are you going to do about it?” – “I don’t know, we’ll come up with something. The house will have to be demolished, but we’ll somehow leave this piece of the wall here.” Air sirens call for shelter. “Maybe, if you don’t mind, we’ll go further?” – offer our Ukrainian companions, accustomed to sirens and alarms. And we go. The destroyed Romaniv bridge over the Irpin River, December, 2022. Photo by Kateryna Mikhalitsina The central square of Borodyanka is uncomfortable, blown by the winds. The low gray sky shines through the shot in the bronze head of Taras Shevchenko. People move as if in slow motion. All sounds are muted. On one side of the square are burnt and destroyed residential buildings. The only bright colors are frozen bunches of viburnum and a bright blue excavator demolishing one of the shot houses. We come closer – curtains thrown by the blast wave, children’s blankets, clothes are hanging on the trees. Someone points to the apartment, where there was a well-known locker with a ceramic rooster. The roof from which the surviving cat was removed. Another Banksy graffiti darkens on the half-ruined wall, which is worth so much that for this money you could probably rebuild the entire center of Borodyanka… Photo by Kateryna Mikhalitsina from Borodyanka, December, 2022 We are going from Irpen to Buchi, I look at my phone and see news: “In Kherson Oblast, they found premises where children were kept and tortured.” I quickly turn away so that Kateryna, who is sitting next to me, does not notice. I’m afraid that it will be too much for her. At least for now. We enter Buchi at dusk, we return straight to the church, near which people were buried en masse during the occupation, the bodies have already been exhumed and reburied, there is only a modest cross and flowers in that place. Later, a memorial sign will be erected here. Inside the church, it is dark, hollow and cold (there is no electricity). Our headlamps pluck from the darkness photographs of black sacks, the faces of shot locals, someone’s hand restraining a sandy grave. I feel as if I am suspended in a terrible timeless space that has no end. Tears constrict the throat. Only Mykhailyna, the deputy mayor of Buchi, who met us here, speaks, the rest are silent. Photo of Kateryna Mikhalitsyna from the Kyiv Khanenko Museum, December 2022, Kyiv. We cross the intersection and the square where Russian rockets hit on October 10. Now there is no trace of them. On the children’s playground, where a hole was gaping just a few months ago, children are playing again – I look at them with horror, anxiety and admiration. The sky is clear, sunny. The windows of the houses around are either new or have not yet been replaced – the panes are covered with plywood and wooden panels. It’s so calm here that it’s almost uncomfortable. Marius Burokas in the photo of Berta Tilmantaite Kyiv. Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Art Museum. One of the country’s most valuable collections of European, Asian, ancient and ancient Egyptian art was kept here. A Russian rocket landed right next to the museum, but the collection was evacuated in advance. We walk through the empty halls of the museum, where only the signatures to the works and the showcase remain. On the windowsill lies an ancient window lock torn out by the blast wave. The curator passionately tells us the history of the museum, explains what and where it was exhibited. The whole thing lasts more than an hour, and for me it is the most conceptual tour possible. About what is not here (fortunately, temporarily). “People still come,” says the curator. “Our regular visitors. They need it – to talk, to be here, to repeat the usual daily rituals. And we accept them. We arrange a tea party.” We leave the museum in the sunlit courtyard. All over the walls are mosaics by the artist Vasyl Ovchinikov. The huge painting “Madonna of Ukraine” – a woman in national dress breastfeeds a baby. * We never saw the Dnipro. We looked from the Kiev hills into the thick darkness where the river should be. The farther from the center, the denser the darkness became. The new districts are almost without light, the streets are quiet and empty. In the center, the darkness is even comfortable: you pass the shadows of people, orient yourself to the dimly lit windows of a bar, an ATM, or the brighter light of a shop with a more powerful generator. Passers-by seem dignified, voices grow louder. During the day, of course, everything is different here, but the city is still calm, alert, attentive, ready for anything. Almost ordinary, mundane. To the siren signal. * I will read this poem by Ostap Slyvinsky at home: “When the last light goes out, our darkness itself begins to glow, with light from nowhere, as smooth as a voice. In our darkness, the cries of the murdered, the tortured, all those who call for revenge can be heard even better. It cannot be turned against us.” * On the way back, we stop in Warsaw. How bright it is! Everything around flashes and flickers. And in my memory, the stars that shine above the darkness of three million Kyiv are falling.
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