Before, my wife and I hardly ever ate bread. Ten minste, if we weren’t in the village where we sometimes spend weekends away from our home in Kyiv. The bread we bought in the village was always tastier than the city stuff. In the Ukrainian countryside, there is a long tradition of having plenty of bread on the table and of eating it with butter and salt or dipping it in milk. Bread dipped in fresh cow’s milk was also given to little kids and they loved it.
Since arriving in western Oekraïne, where like hundreds of thousands of my fellow countrymen my family has sought relative safety, we find ourselves eating much more bread than before.
Our boys have always loved fresh bread. They enjoy making and eating sandwiches. In our village shop, we would buy our favourite Makariv loaf – a soft, wit, brick-shaped loaf. It was baked at the well-known Makariv bakery which is 20km from our village. Occasionally, you could find this bread in Kyiv, but only in small corner shops, not supermarkets.
I have been thinking about that Makariv bread for several days now, remembering the taste. Only now, as I remember, I sense the taste of blood on my lips, like when I was a child if someone split my lip in a fight.
The fact is Makariv bakery was bombed a few days ago by Russian troops. The bakers were at work. I can imagine the fragrant smell that surrounded them the moment before the attack. In an instant, 13 bakery staff were killed and nine were injured. And the bakery is no more – “Makariv bread” is a thing of the past.
Ek have long since run out of words to describe the horror brought by Putin to Ukrainian soil. Ukraine is the land of bread and wheat. Even in Egypt, bread and cakes are baked using Ukrainian flour. It’s the time of year to prepare the fields for sowing, but this work is not being done. The soil of the wheat fields is full of metal – fragments of shells, pieces of blown-up tanks and cars, the remains of downed planes and helicopters. And it’s all covered in blood. The blood of Russian soldiers who do not understand what they are fighting for, and the blood of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians who know that if they do not fight, Ukraine will no longer exist. In its place there will be a cemetery with a caretaker’s hut and some kind of governor general sent from Russia will sit and guard it.
Bread was mixed with blood in Chernihiv as well when Russian bombers dropped “dumb” unguided bombs on a square next to a bread shop. People had lined up outside, waiting to buy some fresh, warm bread. Someone was just leaving the store with a bag of it. Many people died in this bombing raid. Amnesty International has documented this crime committed by the Russian army. Every day the list of crimes grows longer as more and more of Putin’s actions are added to it – the shooting of young volunteers who were carrying food to the dog shelter in Hostomel; the murder of postmen who were delivering pensions to elderly residents in Sumy region; the killing of five people in an aanval on the Kyiv television tower. The list goes on and on. We certainly don’t yet know about all the crimes that have been committed, but we will definitely find out about them all, and the list will be presented at a new Nuremberg trial. It doesn’t matter where it takes place. The main thing is that we know who will be judged.
International lawyers have already begun to collect evidence of crimes. Ukrainians are looking forward to the verdict on the murderers and war criminals. But for now, they must survive under the shelling of the Russian army. They spend their nights in basements, in bomb shelters, in bathrooms – the latest advice circulating on the internet tells us that in case of a bombing raid, the safest places to be are inside your cast-iron bath or in interior corridors where there are no windows.
The people of Kyiv have grown suddenly much more attached to their metro, one of the most beautiful and deepest in the world. The metro is no longer a form of transport – it is a haven, like something from an apocalyptic movie. It is covered with signs of permanent presence of non-travelling “passengers” and there is living space everywhere. The station platforms are being turned into cinemas where films are shown for free – children’s films in the morning and films for a wider audience later in the day. Large screens have already been hung or are being hung right now at 14 Kyiv metro stations. There is a constant supply of tea, the internet is already there, but the connection is poor. There are not enough toilets, but people don’t complain about queuing for 40 minutes or more. Everyone waits patiently. They are waiting for the end of the war and the beginning of the trial – a trial that the whole world will have to follow, as the whole world followed at Nuremberg.
And, in Russia, what do they think about the future court proceedings? I am afraid they don’t think about it at all. They are now busy buying dollars and euros. Sanctions targeting the banking sector have caused the value of the rouble to fall dramatically, provoking panic. Panic is also observed on the Russian-Finnish border, via which many Russians are now trying to leave their homeland. They are those who are ashamed to stay in Russia, and those who could be drafted into the army, those who do not want to die or do not want to kill or do not want to be cannon fodder for the Kremlin.
Some captured Russian soldiers have asked for permission to remain in Ukraine for good. “Jail awaits us if we return!” they say.
On the borders of Ukraine with Moldova, Romania, Hongarye, Slovakia and Poland, there are still queues of refugees. It’s said that some Ukrainians are trying to leave the country using fake Russian passports. These are those who don’t want to fight either. I won’t judge them. Let time and history judge everyone. I am glad that at this most difficult of times, most Ukrainians have maintained their humanity and try to help each other. Mobilisation has been announced, but no one is forcibly taken into the army. Those who themselves want to defend their homeland come to the military registration and enlistment offices and get registered. Most often, they are asked to leave a phone number and to wait for a call. There are many who want to fight the invaders, but not all of those who want to fight are really ready to participate in military action.
In the last couple of days, I’ve started to dread opening Facebook. More and more often in the news feed, I see posts by young Ukrainian women declaring their love for their recently killed husbands. I know some of these women and have met their husbands. I cannot read these cries of despair thrown into the bottomless well of the internet without tears.
But I can’t not read them either. I want to see and hear everything that is happening now in my country. I know that in the occupied Melitopol, in the south of Ukraine, arrests of Crimean Tatar activists and other active citizens have begun. I know that the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant have been kept inside the station by the Russian invaders, that their mobile phones were taken away and that they have not been allowed to leave the station for more than a week now. Moscow television propagandists have gone there under the protection of the Russian military to make news stories. I don’t know what they are saying in Russia about this war, about the captured Chernobyl nuclear power plant, about the captured Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is still in operation. Why do they need this non-military atomic installation? Are they planning to blackmail Ukraine and the world? Why are they bombing children’s hospitals and schools? Why destroy residential areas of Chernihiv, Borodianka, Kharkiv, and Mariupol? Hoekom, na alles, are they bombing bakeries and bread shops? I don’t have answers to these questions.
“You can’t understand Russia with your mind!” wrote the 19th-century Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev.
I agree with him, but I still have a question: how can one understand Russia at all, if the mind does not help?