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  • Writer's pictureMelody Wu

"Emergency Backpack"

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

Introduction by Atreyi Basu

"Emergency Backpack" by Kateryna Andriichuk

 

Introduction

On February 24th, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine in a major escalation of the 2014 Russo-Ukrainian war and created a significant humanitarian crisis. The invasion has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II. As of January 16th, 2023, analysts have estimated that since it began, more than 17 million people have fled Ukraine.


The invasion began in the early morning, local time, when Russian President Putin launched a “special military operation” on Ukraine, claiming that he was seeking “demilitarization and denazification.” Attacks soon followed from multiple fronts and targeted multiple major Ukrainian cities. By the afternoon, the Russian military had invaded Ukraine on three fronts: from Belarus, from the east, and from the south.


Across the country, thousands of Ukrainian civilians of all ages have enlisted. Not only that, thousands of foreign volunteers have signed up to fight on Ukraine’s behalf. The European Union, its participating countries, the United States, and more have remained steadfast in their commitment to Ukraine, sending extensive military, financial, and humanitarian aid. Additionally, many EU countries and the United States have placed far-reaching sanctions targeting Russia.


Sadly, with the absence of talks or negotiations in the near future, it seems likely the war will continue.


Kateryna Andriichuk, who uses she/her and they/them pronouns, is the author of the piece “Emergency Backpack.” They lived in Kyiv, Ukraine and though they had to leave due to the conflict, Andriichuk plans on returning when it is safe. She is one of the screenwriters of the “Defilyada.Kharkiv” podcast and enjoys listening to audiobooks while walking around her neighborhood.


 

"Emergency Backpack"

Art by Melody Wu

What I always had in my backpack:

All my documents– my passport and my birth certificate.

Fish cans, just in case

Notebook

Pencil

Eraser

First aid kit

Guilt

I was ashamed to write anything about the war because I didn’t suffer as badly as the others.

For the first three days, I was constantly in panic mode. Sometimes I thought that I would die due to the exhaustion of panic. Other times I thought I would die because of the bomb. And I felt guilty for panicking for nothing — in those days, there was no shelling in our neighborhood. No calling such as “don’t panic” could help. I couldn’t even think that my family might die. My brain only told me that I would die. I felt so horribly selfish.

I am forcing myself to recall that panic, sirens, the fear of sitting near the windows; the flinching when someone kicked the ball or closed the door too loudly; locked up tears out of fear on the road to the metro. I know that I might forget something traumatic for years and I don’t want to.

The voice in my head constantly whispers that others had it much worse. That it’s not the time for writing about feelings, no one cares about that. Everyone was scared, not just me. But I don’t know how anyone else could live through so much fear. I was anxious all the time even before the war but now, it is difficult to even imagine life without anxiety.

I remember how I almost cried on the train to Vienna while listening to Dity Inzheneriv and Zhadan i Sobaky. Because of the foreign language, because I felt like a runaway. I still can’t imagine how I could forgive myself for leaving. I can’t imagine how I could live through this. I still can’t realize that I’m not in Ukraine now.

It feels like I’m just somewhere beyond time and space, in a dream, somewhere in my thoughts, not in reality.

Yesterday, in the long street in front of my house in Vienna, I was walking outside and I started panicking because I thought I was in Kyiv again and the bomb might fall. It felt exactly the same. I’m scared every time the metro train is going by. Every time a plane flies by.

I am still able to pack my stuff in half an hour. Just like I did in Kyiv. I still can’t believe that I’m safe. I’m always prepared to hear the siren and to hide in the basement. Or to go to another city. I’m still afraid to sit near the windows.

I see how other people keep living. They don’t think of Kyiv every night.

Yesterday, my mom said: “It’s like you don’t let yourself move on. At least go for a walk.” I can’t even imagine moving on. I feel like every day I relive the time from the beginning of the war. I am swinging between hysteria and complete absence of emotions.

I look at the people in the metro and understand that they have lived in peace for the bigger part of their life. So did I. And I could’ve never known that insane fear of dying.

I always thought I was great at concealing my anxiety. I remember people in Kyiv, you could never tell by their face that they were scared. They are going by on the streets, walking their dogs, coming back from the bomb shelters. I think you could read on my face: “I'm begging you, protect me.”

When we were walking from home to the metro, I thought I heard the shots. Mom said she didn’t hear anything. Back then, I was also sure that I was going to die. I can’t remember the exact sound; I only remember it wasn’t like in the movies at all. Now, I probably won’t be able to watch movies with explosions or shots at all. Every night I recall everything in order: how I slept fully clothed, how I hurried everyone during one of the first sirens, the shelling, how I almost cried out of fear on the way to the metro station, the militaries at the station who hurried us to come quicker. Everyone had a rifle pointed in the same direction. And then again and again.

It’s like my body is covered with a protective shield. It is numb, anxious, stressed, as if it is not mine. I’m walking and it is wandering behind. It is pretty, whole, protected but foreign. As if it is a pet that is supposed to be fed. It’s like you understand what it is talking about but then remember it is only barking. That’s how it is with my body. It’s a good one but not mine.

On the train to Chop, there was a woman with a black cat, Amur. She said he was sitting in the basement with two dogs for twelve days. There were eleven of us in total in the compartment, about eight foreign students, but everyone was cheerful. The foreign students were eating cold corn porridge out of one plate and all of them were laughing. We were sleeping while sitting because there was no place to lie. But we all were supporting each other.

While I was charging my phone, I got acquainted with one student. He didn’t even have a seat in the cabin so he was sitting in the hall. He told me how his classmates set up headquarters in the basement and blocked Russian websites. He convinced his friend not to join the territorial defense, he said he was afraid to lose him. My mom lost a friend from Irpin, he was in the territorial defense. My brother and I were comforting her all evening. She said that she still hears his voice in her head, he promised to evacuate her sister from Irpin. That’s probably the only thing you hold onto — people telling you where they are from, how they got here — and it helps. Feels like you are at home in the kitchen with your relatives, drinking tea.

Of course, I speak with my friends but it feels like a whole different world. We are joking, laughing, but as soon as I turn off the phone it is like a different reality. Because all of them are far away when they used to be a simple subway ride away.


Sometimes I draw Kyiv the way I remember it. On the first day of the war, I was afraid to look at my house because I feared it would be gone the next day. And the store near the house might be gone too. I want them to stay at least somewhere. But I want to see Kyiv as soon as possible even if it is not like it used to be. I’m not scared for it at all, it will stand.


Today I thought I could draw the houses with bandages and stitches. And with brilliant green* as well. We will rebuild Kyiv. Kyiv, Kharkiv and everything else. That’s the way you realize that you could never live anywhere else. I’ll go and put some fish cans in my backpack, it will remind me of Kyiv.

*Brilliant green (ukrainian: діамантова зеленка) antiseptic used on cuts, scars and other violations of the integrity of the skin



Translator: Daria Moroz

Content Editor: Kayla Philips

Blog Writer/Editor: Atreyi Basu

 

About the Author, Kateryna Andriichuk:

I study Ukrainian and English languages in Kyiv-Mohyla academy and am one of the screenwriters of Defilyada Kharkiv podcast. I love reading a whole book in one evening and buying new stickers for my laptop.



Interview With Kateryna:



 

Works Cited


Abend, Lisa. "Meet the Foreign Volunteers Risking Their Lives to Defend Ukraine—and Europe." Time, Time USA, 7 Mar. 2022, time.com/6155670/foreign-fighters-ukraine-europe/. Accessed 24 Jan. 2023.


Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. "U.S. Security Cooperation with Ukraine." U.S. Department of State, 18 Jan. 2023, www.state.gov/u-s-security-cooperation-with-ukraine/#:~:text=Since%202014%2C%20the%20United%20States,and%20improve%20interoperability%20with%20NATO. Accessed 24 Jan. 2023.


CReAM Research Team. "Current Migration Flows from Ukraine." Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, University College London, 17 Jan. 2023, cream-migration.org/ukraine-detail.htm?article=3573. Accessed 24 Jan. 2023.


Kirby, Jen, and Jonathan Guyer. "Russia's War in Ukraine, Explained." Vox, Vox Media, 6 Mar. 2022, www.vox.com/2022/2/23/22948534/russia-ukraine-war-putin-explosions-invasion-explained. Accessed 24 Jan. 2023.


Image Credits


Harnik, Andrew. 4 February 2022. https://www.andrewharnik.com/. Accessed 10 March 2023.


Getty Images. 6 April 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-63389270. Accessed 10 March 2023.


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