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Introduction by Julian Riccobon

"Birthday" by Sviatoslav Odarchenko



Think back to the earliest birthday you can remember. Maybe you were eleven or twelve. Maybe you remember inviting over all of your closest friends, and they serenaded you in song. Maybe you remember blowing out the candles on your birthday cake and making a wish.

Do you remember what you wished for?

Now replace the cake with a simple poppy bun. Replace the room full of singing friends with a dark street at night and the rumble of distant explosions. Someone that you love is out there in the dark (you don’t know where), and all you can do is wish that they will return safely…

As writers and editors, it is our responsibility to share with you not only the headlines that you see on the news, but also the personal experiences. In order to fully understand the Russo-Ukrainian War, readers must see it through the eyes of the people it has impacted. And this memoir, “Birthday,” gives us an inside look at the Russo-Ukrainian War through the eyes of a twelve-year-old speaker.

Sviatoslav Odarchenko is possibly one of the youngest writers that Polyphony Lit has published to date, and yet, the young speaker that we see in this memoir shows incredible emotional maturity, offering support towards his siblings and assurance to his mother, during a moment of impending fear.

It is important to remember that the Russo-Ukrainian War has been a harrowing experience not only for military personnel but also for civilians, not only for adults but also for children. It is eye-opening to see a twelve-year-old describe, with such knowing detail, the sound of explosions, and more importantly, the terrifying silences in between, with the threat of another, more imminent explosion, hanging overhead like a sword.

Even more eye-opening is the way in which Sviatoslav rises to the occasion, during the events described in this memoir, uplifting his loved ones with faith and confidence. Fear can bring out the worst in people… Or it can bring out the best, prompting courage and unity.


Art by Ayahal-Masyabi


It wasn't very late yet. We were sitting in the living room. Mom closed all the windows and blinds, and nobody turned the lights on. The TV was on, but quietly. Dad wasn't here yet. He was coming from the city on foot. All the transport had been shut down a couple of days earlier.

My brother and sister were on the couch playing First Letter Last Letter. It was cute. Darynka is only a year old so she wasn't really saying anything, just repeating word endings. It came out as 'aw', 'oo' or 'owa'.

We built our house in the suburbs. It's a small, pretty house. Our home.

These last couple of days, we've been hearing strong explosions that made the walls shake.

Mom was trying to seem calm, but she couldn't do it very well. She often looked at her phone and walked around to check things. She smiled and gave each of us a kiss every time she walked past us.

The last neighbors left our street today. They gave us their keys so that we could come water their plants. Everybody was gone. There was no light in any of the windows down the street. The streetlamps were off too.

That wasn't the scary part, though. The silence was scary. Between the explosions, there were silent gaps. Some were longer and some shorter: boom______BOOM_boom_________boom.

There was pretty much nothing left at the stores. Only some bread and cereals and cornflakes. The stores only opened for two hours a day. There were big lines, even though a lot of people left in the first days of the full-scale invasion.

Mom was cooking dinner. We wanted to wait until Dad came back, so that we'd all have dinner together. He had to get home before curfew.

"Sunshine, if anything bad happens, you grab your brother and sister and... if it happens to them too, get out on your own, cross the field, and get to the school. There's a big basement. You know where the door is. It's never locked, and there are teachers on watch at night. Some people moved down there, so you won't be alone. And you have to take my backpack, the small one. It's near the front door. There are our documents, there's money, my old phone, a sweater, and some water, and some cookies. As soon as you can, call grandma and tell her what's going on. Her number's in the contacts. And I wrote it on the backpack too."

"Mom, nothing bad's gonna happen. Dad will come home soon, and we'll celebrate my birthday. I'll make a good wish. But I won't say what it is. And then it'll come true, and everything's going to be okay. Let's just play with Darynka and Stas for now. They've been going over the same words."

We all sat on the floor. Darynka was crawling around us. Stas was telling us about his adventures at school. Suddenly, there was a knock on the window. It was Dad. He came back!

"My step-counter says this was my record. I can feel it in my legs, too. I'll take a quick rest, then we pack up and move to a safe place in the morning. It's a long drive. We'll have to take the detours through the fields; it's safer. Also, I brought a cake. Well, it's a poppy bun, but it'll have to be the cake tonight. Happy birthday, Sviatoslav!"

I had made my wish yesterday itself. And I really knew it would come true. Because every day is like a birthday right now.


Translators: Alice Haida

Content Editors: Nicole Guan and Julian Riccobon

Blog Writer/Editor: Siya Mundra


Image Credits

13UG13th on iStock. 17 July 2015. Accessed 1 June 2023.

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