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Thursday, February 24, 2022
I wake up around four am and check the news − Russia has launched attacks on countless cities in which my family members reside. I call my grandparents who are in Kyiv in blind panic and try to understand how the rest of my family are faring across the country. The next day I am supposed to move into a new apartment and transport boxes from one area of Brooklyn to another, but I seem to fall into a complete trance over what is happening.
For two weeks, I am not sure what has occurred or how I have transported myself from one apartment to the next. I stare out from my new window at a tree that is starting to sprout. In the midst of inhaling every single news source and getting daily updates from family members in Kyiv and Kharkiv who are getting bombed by missiles, all I can bring myself to do is stare at this single tree right in front of my new apartment complex.
Sunday, February 19, 2023
I google “how many have died in Ukraine since the start of the war” − it has been impossible to keep count of how many have been lost at the hands of monstrosity a year later. A news article spits out the number of thirty thousand civilian deaths. Around thirty thousand? I am unable to conceptualize the amount of lives lost to senseless violence, and there are no words that come close to capturing the human destruction that has occurred. The loss of children’s first days at school, grandparent’s attendance of a recital, a young couple’s wedding day, a woman’s simple pleasure on a spring day.
Monday, February 20, 2023
I pick up the copy of Yevgenia Belorusets’ War Diary sent over by the publisher, which marks in its own way the ability to commemorate the events of the past year. Upon the first day of Putin’s shelling of Kyiv and other regions of Ukraine, Belorusets started to keep a diary documenting the war. She shared with the world her thoughts of anguish, alienation, hatred, and confusion by publishing these accounts first in the German newspaper Der Spiegel and then later in ISOLARII and Art Forum. From the start, Belorusets confesses that it feels strange to find [herself] in this broad, unarmed, almost delicate category: ‘civilians.’ For war, a category of people is created who live ‘outside the game.’” War forces categorization on individuals, disrupting the norm as she explains later, declaring that “the scale of war’s murderousness destroys what identifies people as individuals, even as human beings”.
The war brought to the light the “habit of making sacrifices and satisfying monsters and perpetrators of violence”. Every day, the author checks the news compulsively, trying to understand what is happening across her country and attempting to grasp the impacts of a scaled genocidal operation against our people. In the past, I have heard phrases that tried to encapsulate the atrocities of war − the innocent spilling of blood, the body counts of children murdered, the number of destroyed homes. These are linguistic configurations that we have come up with to try to understand the absurdity of violence, but none it seems can adequately acknowledge the mass killings.
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
The images of Russia’s war on Ukraine follow a familiar beat: unjustified mass violence, the corpses of victims, ravished buildings. Yevgenia Belorusets created a photo and written diary of the first few months of war, but her images present quite a different perspective. I am reminded of Susan Sontag’s writing in “Regarding the Pain of Others” as she says, “the hunt for more dramatic (as they’re often described) images drives the photographic enterprise, and is part of the normality of a culture in which shock has become a leading stimulus of consumption and source of value.” Belorusets shows a side of conflict that is rarely projected in news coverage. In her diary, she captures images that show the haunted vastness of streets emptied out after a shelling attempt.
On March 6, 2022, the author heads out of her apartment to meet with a close friend and fellow artist, Polina Veller, to take some artistic photos of the masks that Polina has been making with the Ukrainian flag. Upon seeing the two taking photos, a man warns them of the danger of taking pictures at the present time, as they could be used for sinister reasons by the other side. Belorusets assures him of her journalistic ethic and continues to take photos as other bystanders stare. She later reflects on the power of the photographic image “that can serve as a witness to history, but is feared precisely for this reason”.
War empties streets that on any other day would be teeming with activity and Belorusets takes time to describe the fear that comes from walking down a main street that is “so open and unprotected.” It makes her scared to walk down the path. Her pictures also show groups of friends still trying to support one another by doing everyday things like walking their dogs. She explains how photos “transform the city into a target just by existing, even though the documentation of one’s life through pictures has become a modern habit that can help us process pain, fear, and danger. While words can be deceptive, a photograph seems to capture something irrevocably while at the same time speaks for itself.”
Friday, February 24, 2023
The tree outside my window is starting to sprout again with spring around the corner, and people in Ukraine are still facing this unjust war. As Belorusets proclaims, “every day of this war is one too many.”
Tuesday, February 28, 2023
“But this word [war] seems meaningless, because in war reality breaks into parts, islands pieces.” I keep re-reading Belorusets passages within her diary as a means to seek comfort in another person’s attempt to make sense of the violence that she and many others have had to face. Every war is a meaningless attempt to fortify power through violent means, but I never thought I would have to witness a war’s impact on my own family.
by Yevgenia Balorusets
Translated by Greg Nissan
New Directions Publishing, 128 pages
Christina Obolenskaya is an avid participant of the online book community, running her own bookstagram (@oboreads) and author podcast called "In the Stacks." Her writing has appeared in publications such as Literary Hub, Chicago Review of Books and Ploughshares.