Translated by Michael Gluck

From the author: The sketches collected here are a loose retelling of the stories I heard from people fleeing Ukraine after the war began. One is taken from an interview that I conducted for a German-language newspaper, another was shared with me when I was helping refugees as a translator, a third concerns my family.

The Bernese Mountain Dog

When I was young, I dreamed of getting a Bernese Mountain Dog, but my parents were against the idea and told me that you couldn’t get that kind of dog here - only in Bern, that’s why they’re called that. So I lived in Ukraine while my Bernese Mountain Dog was in faraway Switzerland. But since this did nothing to lessen my desire - it just made me even more insistent - in the end there was nothing for my parents to do but, a few years later, buy me a puppy that I patiently raised and, little by little, from a defenseless baby he turned into a guardian, a watchdog who tried to protect us from any danger, even from the first explosions, even from soldiers, but this, it turned out, was not in his power. We had to go and leave him there; now I live in Switzerland and my Bernese Mountain Dog lives in faraway Ukraine.


A woman came here with us from the warzone: Natalka, very simple, from a village where people have nothing other than what they grow and raise themselves. She was actually doing well here - she got all her papers quickly and settled in a little apartment downtown that she was even a little proud of. But as soon as April came, she gathered all her things and set off back where she had come from because it was time to plant the potatoes.


The war starts on a Sunday morning. When the bombs fall in Kyiv everyone runs to the botanical garden because someone told them they should hide under the trees. Polya huddles over the children as though she can shield them from the bombs; and above searchlights cut up the sky, above bomber lights flicker. Then Polya and the children are brought to Dnipro on a ship; they board a train at the local freight station, getting on an open freight car used to transport coal. Black dust whirls in the air, flying off the walls and floor; everything is covered in soot - every fiber, every fold of their skin, every pore - and this soot will seemingly never be washed away - not from them, not from their children, not from their children’s children. And that Thursday morning, when the war starts up again and the bombs start falling on Kyiv, Polya’s great-granddaughter boards a train.

To the main page →