25 Aug Particule de umanitate
I had an ordinary life in Odesa. I love my old neighborhood, close to the city center, shaded by an alley of giant chestnut trees. Every time I was having a tough time with something, these old trees would put me at ease and help me find my way again.
My husband is a journalist and just a month before the war he got a promotion. I create toys. We were very happy. The only thing that was on our minds at the time was about preparing our son for school as he was about to start first grade in the autumn. It was an important threshold for our family.
I’ve always loved making toys since I was a child. I made Christmas toys for my son’s kindergarten party and gave them away as gifts. When I saw how well they were received, I thought I might as well sell them and I have been doing that for over three years now.
There are many Ukrainian families where one partner has to work abroad to earn more money. My parents had to do that.
We were getting by, but also aware that if something happened and we would need a larger sum right away, one of us would have to leave for a while to work in another country.
But I never imagined that a war could tear us apart and leave us in such a state of instability and uncertainty, not knowing when we could be together again, or if it would ever be possible.
On the first day of the invasion, I couldn’t understand the magnitude of the event. I had no intention of leaving my home. After the call for general mobilization of men, I thought that if my husband had to go and fight, I couldn’t be left alone with our son in the middle of a war.
My parents live in a small town near the Moldovan border and I decided to take our son and go stay with them. We were hoping that my husband would join us in a week or so after he had sorted out a few things in Odesa.
We boarded the train, not knowing we would be apart for so long. I don’t have a car, so I took very little luggage, just what I could carry. We figured whatever we needed he’d get it for us in a few days.
When we got to my parents’ place, they told us it would be safer to catch up with our relatives who had already fled to Moldova. So that very day, I picked up my son and we got into a taxi that took us almost to the border. The queues were huge. We walked for about an hour, but it wasn’t difficult because there were fewer people on foot than cars. I spent two weeks in Moldova, then I came to Romania.
I didn’t want to trick my son into thinking we were going on a vacation, but I didn’t want to scare him either. I told him that there was a trouble going on in our country called “war” and that some bad people from another country are trying to take over our home. And our fearless warriors will defend our country and defeat them in the end, but the children must stay in a safe place until the battles are over. I didn’t tell him there was danger at home so he wouldn’t be afraid for his father. I explained to him it was harder for children to live in the middle of a war because sirens make you go to the shelter several times a day or keep the lights off at night.
When we arrived in Romania, there were many Ukrainians and very few available places to stay. We lived for a while in Piatra Neamț, then in Toplița, and now we have settled in Bistrița.
The first package my husband had sent us was our summer clothes, because the postage was cheaper than buying new ones.
Since the war started, I have not been able to create toys. I was much too scared and angry and hurting from the mere thought of not being able to create cute and colorful things again in this atmosphere of hatred. Then I had an idea of putting all these emotions into my art.
When I was in Moldova, I made two villains out of dust cloths. I attached the name “Huilo” (Putin) to one of them, and “Luka” (Lukashenko) to the other one. I went outside and dragged them through the mud, trampled them and threw them in the trash. Later I felt so much better, as if I was finally free of something horrible.
I can’t say I found my inner peace once I started making toys again, I don’t see this happening as long as we’re living through a war. But I realized that we should live and do what we love, even with this new reality around us, even when our hearts are full of pain. Creativity helps me relax and I needed that.
I asked my husband to send me a package of toy making supplies. When I received it, it felt like it came from another life. But I thought to myself, it was funny how the fates of people and of things follow down twisted paths. Inside the box from home were the last four blue crabs I had created when I was offered an artist residency at a space back in Ukraine called “Blue Crab”. These crabs travelled through the war-torn Ukraine and ended up in the Bistrița mountains, and later in the homes of Romanians who liked and bought them.
I realized that I didn’t miss any material things from home. I miss people: my parents, my husband, my friends and even people who weren’t very close to me, like my favorite shop clerks or baristas. And our cat. And I miss the feeling of living in a country with no war in it – it’s a state I was not aware of before and one I’m longing for now.
The people here are full of empathy and desire to help. I am extremely grateful to them. A few days ago, I went to a hospital with my son and so many people wrote to me to encourage us and ask how we were doing. I want to thank all the volunteers for caring. I admire what they do and their help is extremely important. I get teary-eyed every time I read how much support Ukrainians fleeing the war are getting.
Right now, I am hoping for Ukraine’s victory because it would mean a victory for all the countries that support us.
When I was little, my grandparents who had fought in World War II had a saying: “If only there wasn’t a war.” It was a familiar saying that I didn’t think much of. Peace seemed commonplace, not something to pray for.
Now I understand the meaning of those words so well. All of us, as small particles of humanity, should gravitate towards the commonplace of peace.
Story collected by Ana-Maria Ciobanu for the Museum of Abandonment, as part of the Suitcases of Abandonment campaign. Project funded by CARE through the Sera Foundation, Care France and FONPC.
Mărturie culeasă de Ana-Maria Ciobanu pentru Muzeul Abandonului, în cadrul campaniei Bagajele Abandonului. Proiect finanțat de CARE prin Fundația Sera, Care Franța și FONPC.