"100 Days of War"
Updated: Jun 2
Introduction by Eliza O'Keefe
"100 Days of War" by Daria Starobilets
There can be no smooth introduction to war. “100 Days of War” opens with an airstrike, the carefully placed detail of a fallen houseplant underscoring how the Russian occupation of Starobilsk quickly, violently disrupted the entirety of the author’s life. The reader gets no preparation. The strike comes suddenly, leaving in its wake both murky terror and the inconvenience of dirt trapped behind a desk. The panic and confusion of that first long night of war linger throughout the piece.
But the piece itself doesn’t linger in panic. Instead, it devotes its attention to scenes of resilience. Resilience is the thread linking the daily routines of displaced families to the author’s palpable scorn for the occupiers, who take indiscriminately from Starobilsk and its people. Resentment and frustration, after all, are two symptoms of resilience, repelling efforts by the occupiers to stifle and control; the piece’s spiky wit is a testament to resilience through humor—contemptuous humor and frank, thrilling disrespect.
How can a person be dislocated within their own home? The piece examines that question from both individual and collective angles, resulting in a scope both massive and personal: geopolitical developments are found alongside images and memories that can be heard, touched, and breathed in. By distilling the chaos of the war into translucently clear prose, “100 Days of War” strips it of intrigue while simultaneously amplifying it. The people of Starobilsk manage the complications to their lives resourcefully as days of occupation become months, the end unknowable but adaptation to the now increasingly achievable. Explosions bookend the piece, but there’s no corresponding closure—only reality.
"100 Days of War"
I don’t know where the shell hit, but the shock wave throws my window open, launching the huge crassula from the windowsill. It’ll take a long time to get the earth and the pot debris out from under my desk.
I don’t sleep for most of the night. I listen to new sounds: a torn windproof film beats against the window frame, a downstairs neighbor rumbles his computer tanks, a sick child makes a noise. The wind blows. I check the news hourly and ask everyone I know, “How are you?” Throughout this night and many more to come, I wait relentlessly, almost hopefully, for a missile to hit my room, so that everything would be over before it could start.
Nothing has changed by morning. White armbands, “Z”s on cars—same as the day before. The night was quiet. Now, we’re advised to block out our windows: the “guests” decided to stay in the city, and have occupied educational institutions, one of which I can see right outside. It’s unlikely that they’ll throw something at my window or peep through binoculars, but they could shine flashlights. I’m still shaking all over sitting in my own room. A heavy mattress is precariously held on the nails near the window frame.
Twelve days, and the so-called guests still haven’t left. What’s more, I see a video of a soldier with a white rag on his knee installing a tricolor on the district council building. Blue grace of God, cloudless sky, heroically shed blood—that’s how to translate this Luhansk People’s Republic flag. Soon, it will be installed on every significant building, and even later will be supplemented with the Russian “Aquafresh.”* The Ukrainian trident at the city court will be broken in half, a two-headed eagle will be slapped on the city flag, and the Soviet names of the streets will be restored. But for now, the residents of Starobilsk don’t know what awaits them, so they decide to organize a protest, which results in the return of the blue-yellow canvas to the main flagpole.
With the efforts of the Ukrainian administration, which still remains in the city, the IDPs* are housed in a spacious hall of one of the sports educational institutions. There are a little over a hundred of them there. Old people with hollow eyes. Adults concerned with maintaining some semblance of normal living conditions. Kids solemnly playing their games. People bring toys and sweets to distract them from the outside world, milk and cereal to feed the infants. What’s left of the Ukrainian Ministry of Emergency Situations and volunteers cook food, and some locals bake a full bowl of fragrant pyrizhky*. Donated clothes are stored in a separate room. The floor of the hall is covered in mattresses and unfolded sunbeds; caustic fumes of rotten war are rising to the ceiling. Volunteers ask residents of the city to let at least a few people have a wash in their showers; the rest are trying to arrange washing in one of the local baths.
Medicine and food are gradually running out. It will take many days before a safe road to Stanytsia or Luhansk is paved so that farmers can fill local shops and markets with their goods. The value of the hryvnia* will shrink below the ruble*, but even before that hardship we get used to living in the absence of any telephone or adequate Internet connection, watching the Russian news and hearing their songs mixed with invitations to join the ranks of the people’s militia on the radio. The broadcasting tower has been taken over. Propaganda campaigns have begun.
On Day 74, they conduct a survey on life in the USSR or something like that—I don’t participate, only watch from a distance as they stop people to ask questions. They find statues of Lenin stacked away in some warehouses and get them out for installation. Calls to come to the Victory Day rally are plastered all over the city. Do they really think that we were forbidden to celebrate it for eight years? What’s the fixation on this eight-year period anyway? My region has been part of Ukraine since the first days of independence. Someone’s pretty bad with history.
On the following day, May 9th, they don’t stop with the rally—there’s a procession with flags and songs to top it off. Afterwards, some will recognize familiar faces in the photos from the rally with bitter heartache. In a video, locals say that they are finally free to celebrate Victory Day. They mean that before the occupiers came, I was not singing songs about victory at the top of my lungs on the city square; I did not give flowers to veterans, did not shield them from the rain with my umbrella during the parade. Yeah, all of these memories are just a dream. I write this diary on the Republic Day.
All night and day the military vehicles drive through the streets. Starobilsk has been turned into the vehicle and munitions dump, a good logistics hub, which the occupiers treat with reverence and care. I feel bad for everyone who has become accustomed to these sounds.
[NORMAL WHITE SPACE – formatting strangely]
Day 100 begins at 5:30 AM with a powerful explosion—a flashback to the second day. Some say that a plane broke the sound barrier. Some managed to take a picture of a white footprint in the sky, which corroborates a theory about Russian air defense. Some argue that something fell there/exploded over my house/flew farther. Everyone heard it well and clear, so loud that car alarms went off.
During these hundred days, we run to the basement only a couple of times before we get used to distinguishing between strikes on the city—which, in fact, ended after the second day—and strikes on the areas around the city. We warm ourselves by burning heat tablets and joke while the elders mumble their prayers. We learn to recognize dozens of sounds and sleep soundly at night in our pajamas, not paying attention to the wind carrying the noise of close combat. White armbands; armored vehicles racing back and forth, with three infamous letters on them. Even fighter jets so brazen that they loom over our vegetable gardens. Shattered houses in the neighborhood, rubles for currency, no communication with the outside world. During these hundred days, we grow accustomed to a new reality which we are skillfully surviving.
*Aquafresh: a derogatory term for the Russian flag
*IDPs: internally displaced persons
*pyrizhky: Ukrainian baked or fried yeast-leavened boat-shaped buns with a variety of fillings
*hryvnia: Ukrainian currency
*ruble: Russian currency, also used in occupied Ukraine
Translator: Daria Bezzadina
Content Editor: Cynthia Wang
Blog Writer/Editor: Eliza O'Keefe
Note From Author, Daria Starobilets
My text has been published on this page https://svidomi.in.ua/page/holosy-starobilsk. The publication was made in the Ukrainian language, which is the original language of my text.
Interview with Daria
DAILY RECORD. 27 February 2022. https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/five-organisations-ukraine-you-can-26337260. Accessed 16 April 2023.
IStock. 22 April 2021. https://www.thestatesman.com/india/air-strike-maoist-hideouts-bastar-1502964049.html. Accessed 16 April 2023.